Wednesday, June 15, 2011

How To Be A Values-Based Leader In Times Of Trial

Being a values-based leader committed to doing the right thing (which I wrote about here) is relatively easy when things are going well. Leadership, however, is proved by challenges. Facing what I call the 3 C's--change, controversy, and crisis--will force you to define and demonstrate your values-based leadership.

In a trying time, the actions and reactions of a leader reveal his or her personal and organizational values to the world. That is when you must rely on the four principles of values-based leadership to help you see clearly as you chart the course forward. In brief, the four principles are:

--Self-reflection: Identifying and reflecting on what you stand for, your values, and what matters most.

--Balance: Seeing situations from multiple perspectives to gain holistic understanding.

--True self-confidence: Accepting yourself as you are, recognizing your strengths and weaknesses and focusing on continuous improvement.

--Genuine humility: Remembering who you are, appreciating the value of each person and treating everyone respectfully.

Practicing these principles enhances your leadership at all times and helps you be prepared for challenges.

Of the 3 C's, the one you will always confront most often is change, both inside and outside the organization. Change may include new regulations, new technologies, and new economic conditions. Most people don't like change, large or small. They resist it and only begrudgingly tolerate it. Such attitudes and behaviors limit one's leadership.

A values-based leader embraces change and initiates it. He or she is comfortable getting out ahead of competitors. To do so most effectively, you need the four principles, to be clear about what you're doing and why, to gain multiple perspectives, to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and to remain grounded.

The next "C" is controversy, which requires swift and firm action. Controversy might involve, say, product tampering or an incident of fraud. Responding to controversy requires clear and frequent communication, especially with other members of your organization--your teammates. The last thing any leader wants is to have people to get their information on what's happening from the media or the company rumor mill.

When people hear frequent updates about what has occurred and steps that are being taken to address it, they are more assured. Even communication that is incomplete and will need to be updated helps to quell fears.

The third "C" is crisis. No leader wants it, but it's inevitable at times. Crises are usually sudden and severe. They might include an industrial accident that causes injury or death, or an environmental disaster for which the company is responsible. Crises are highly emotional for everyone involved. As a values-based leader, you can rely on the four principles to help you quiet your own emotional reactions and minimize fear and worry. When you're committed to doing the right thing, the way forward becomes more apparent with far less stress and agonizing over how to react.

When a crisis erupts, the world watches. At such a time, your organization's commitment to doing the right thing must be the message that is broadcast and remembered. Once again, practicing the four principles can give you clarity and the confidence to move forward while maintaining clear channels of communication with your team. The more you communicate with others during a crisis, the better you can respond, with the benefit of the holistic view that comes from gathering multiple perspectives. Moreover, two-way communication keeps your team on track and committed to the best possible outcome.

No matter how well prepared you are, the three C's will happen, sometimes in minor ways, other times more severely. Relying on the four principles of values-based leadership will equip you with a fourth C--courage. Courage enables you to face challenges even in the midst of fear. Courage emboldens you to confront that fear and do what is necessary.

Values-based leadership is not a guarantee of having the right answers all the time. The more challenging or severe a situation, the more difficult it is to address. As you take action based on your values and what matters most, however, the way becomes clearer. You know what to do, regardless of the circumstance. You do the right thing.


Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr. is the author of  From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership (Jossey-Bass, April 2011). A former chairman and chief executive of Baxter International, a global health care company, he is a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and an executive partner with Madison Dearborn Partners. In 2008 he was voted the Kellogg School Professor of the Year.

Thanks to Harry M. Jansen Kraemer / Forbes


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