Principled leadership

“Principled leaders are those who articulate their values, make decisions guided by their values, and consistently live their values in a transparent manner, all while clearly adhering to the ethical codes and standards of their environment….. the business world is changing at a pace never seen before, and change demands action based on ethics, insight, and understanding—that’s what principled leadership is all about”

Sarah Mangia – Senior Director, Max M. Fisher College of Business, Ohio State University

We could not have said it better – and that’s why we begin defining strategy here – with the values of the people who lead the organisation.

But before we speak about what principled leadership is – let’s talk about the individual leader – actually just the individual, it does not matter whether you are a leader or not. Let’s talk about YOU and what makes you you!

When you consider what makes you you, the answers multiply as do the questions. As a baby, you learned to recognize that the face in the mirror was your face. But as an adult, you begin to wonder what and who you are. While we could discuss the concept of self endlessly and philosophers have wrestled and will continue to wrestle with it, for our purposes, let’s focus on self, which is defined as one’s own sense of individuality, motivations, and personal characteristics. We also must keep in mind that this concept is not fixed or absolute; instead it changes as we grow and change across our lifetimes.

One point of discussion useful for our study about ourselves as communicators is to examine our attitudes, beliefs, and values. These are all interrelated, and researchers have varying theories as to which comes first and which springs from another. We learn our values, beliefs, and attitudes through interaction with others. The table below “Attitudes, Beliefs, and Values” defines these terms and provides an example of each.

Intrapersonal Communication and Self Course by Lumen –
AttitudesLearned predispositions to a concept or objectSubject to changeI enjoy certain tasks and interactions with others. I find it stimulating and meaningful and enjoy being able to communicate openly without fear or judgement.
BeliefsConvictions or expressions of confidenceCan change over timeOpen and honest interactions with colleagues and customers cements a sense of loyalty and trust, and is therefore important.
ValuesIdeals that guide our behaviourGenerally long-lastingBeing truthful and honest are basic building-blocks of human decency, and open and honest communication is a requirement for a trust relationship.

An attitude is your immediate disposition toward a concept or an object. Attitudes can change easily and frequently. You may prefer vanilla while someone else prefers peppermint, but if someone tries to persuade you of how delicious peppermint is, you may be willing to try it and find that you like it better than vanilla.

Beliefs are ideas based on our previous experiences and convictions and may not necessarily be based on logic or fact. You no doubt have beliefs on political, economic, and religious issues. These beliefs may not have been formed through rigorous study, but you nevertheless hold them as important aspects of self. Beliefs often serve as a frame of reference through which we interpret our world. Although they can be changed, it often takes time or strong evidence to persuade someone to change a belief.

Values are core concepts and ideas of what we consider good or bad, right or wrong, or what is worth the sacrifice. Our values are central to our self-image, what makes us who we are. Like beliefs, our values may not be based on empirical research or rational thinking, but they are even more resistant to change than are beliefs. To undergo a change in values, a person may need to undergo a transformative life experience.

For example, suppose you highly value the freedom to make personal decisions, including the freedom to choose whether or not to wear a helmet while driving a motorcycle. This value of individual choice is central to your way of thinking and you are unlikely to change this value. However, if your brother was driving a motorcycle without a helmet and suffered an accident that fractured his skull and left him with permanent brain damage, you might reconsider this value. While you might still value freedom of choice in many areas of life, you might become an advocate for helmet laws—and perhaps also for other forms of highway safety, such as stiffer penalties for cell-phone talking and texting while driving.

The above section from a Lumen course in Intrapersonal Communication and Self, highlights that what we do, how we act and the decisions we make is based on who we are as much as the facts at hand. It further highlights that who we are often influenced by others and the context in which we do things.

Leaders should not underestimate the power of creating a supportive organisational culture as a means to move the collective organisation into a given direction. Organisational culture and shared values are foundations of successPROVIDED we don’t try doing something that conflicts with the values and culture of the organisation; it is more likely to succeed than not.

You also saw that of the three attributes mentioned – values are the one that proves to be the one that would most probably not change over time. It is therefore very important for leaders to have a firm grasp of their own and the collective values of the organisation.

Now back to principled leadership! Unfortunately, principles leadership means different things to different people, so we need to describe is principled leadership in a digital age! In general, the description of three types of leadership describes Principled Leadership.

Servant leaders have a desire to help others grow into the best, person, employee, family member or even citizen they can be and are generally motivated by principles of being committed to a greater good. They see themselves as stewards of the organisation in that they provide direction, ensure that the organisation contributes positively to society and that followers are held accountable for the performance they can control, and believe in the principle of fairness.

Authentic leaders focused on the principle of trustworthiness, and the value of integrity, they are true to their beliefs and values and base their actions on these. They do not conform to the expectations of others, show self-control that is guided by internalised values rather than group pressures – we often say they ‘walk the talk’.

Ethical leaders share many of the traits of authentic and servant leaders; including fairness, people-orientation, providing moral guidance, concern for sustainability, power-sharing and integrity. There is, however, an issue with using the word ethical or moral as they are based on social, religious and cultural constructs, what is ethical or moral in one society may not be in the next!

That being said – if you get what the above three types of leaders stand for and how they act and behave – you have a general view of what we term Principled Leadership.

So why is this important?

A number of studies have shown that the most effective leaders operate with a clearly articulated set of principles and values. That holds even when different measurement criteria are applied, for both the effectiveness of the leader or the organisation.

Principled leaders operate from a firm foundation of ethical principles and beliefs that are clearly reflected in their decisions and interactions with others. By remaining principled in their actions, they are seen as consistent over time regardless of market changes or environmental pressures. The cumulative impact of these actions and decisions creates trust among stakeholders which, allows for more effective leadership.

That last sentence is most probably the crux of it – you always know where you stand with them, and you can trust them!