Many leading thinkers and business practitioners advocate that true leadership is best expressed through the lens of values and beliefs of an organisation's senior management, which serve to mould the broader organisation's core identity and mindset. This is a view I wholeheartedly endorse.
The basic tenets of values-based leadership centre around striving for self-reflection in order to achieve a true state of self-awareness, motivating employees by connecting the organization's goals with their personal values, and continuously communicating and demonstrating the application of organisational values to accomplishing the organisation's mission.
And while not a corporate example, this is very well exemplified by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, one of India's best-known scientists and the country's former President. Recognized and revered for his personal and work ethics, Dr Kalam led by example, shaping the development of world-class institutions such as the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and inspiring some of the brightest minds in the country for generations to come.
In essence, the two disparate strands that are personal beliefs and organizational values must be made one, in order to better achieve the organizational mission. This is achieved by staying true to one's values, remaining consistent with one's beliefs, and never swaying from one's fundamental ideals.
An organization's values, along with its people's belief in them, form the bedrock of the company's decisions, its decision-making methodology, and ultimately, its true purpose. Leaders may change their strategy, tactics, or approach in order to better handle a given situation, but they must never change their underlying values, beliefs, and principles.
An adherence to these principles serves to define the character and culture of the organization, which in turn is a reflection of the consciousness of its leadership.
Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr., an executive partner in one of the largest private equity firms in the United States, enumerates four principles of value-based leadership in his book 'Values to Action':
Self-Reflection: You must have the ability to identify and reflect on what you stand for, what your values are, and what matters most to you. To be a values-based leader, you must be willing to look within yourself through regular self-reflection and strive for greater self-awareness. After all, if you aren't self-reflective, how can you truly know yourself? If you don't know yourself, how can you internalize organizational values as your own? To lead others you must be able to lead yourself first. You can do that only if you are at peace with yourself.
Balance: This refers to the ability to see situations from multiple perspectives and differing viewpoints to gain a much fuller understanding. Balance means that you consider all sides and opinions with an open mind. The point to emphasize is that even while we subscribe to the same values we can still have differing interpretations and perspectives like it happens in a family and, as leaders, we must duly recognize these.
Self-Confidence: Accepting yourself as you are. You recognize your strengths and your weaknesses and strive for continuous improvement. With true self confidence you know that there will always be people who are more gifted, accomplished, successful and so on than you, but you are OK with who you are. Self-confidence also helps you to recognize others merits and true potential.
Humility: Kraemer calls it the principle of genuine humility. Never forget who you are or where you come from. Genuine humility keeps life in perspective, particularly as you experience success in your career. It helps you value each person you encounter and treat everyone respectfully.
Subscribing to these four principles nourishes the core of values-based leadership.
In closing, I would say that we live in an age where hyper-competitiveness, self-serving behaviours, and ethical instability have become the norm. It is in values-based leadership that we find a panacea to these ailments, through the promise of self-managing employees, a more sincere corporate culture, and a newfound clarity of purpose.
After all, cultural capital is the new frontier of competitive advantage.
By Dr Kamal Kishore Sharma, Vice-Chairman, Lupin Limited