What is Values-Based Leadership – Expert Interview

This expert interview comes from Executive Coach and Integrity Coaching Associate, Pat Joseph.


What is Values-Based Leadership?

Values based leadership is when leaders draw on both their own core values and the negotiated and defined values of the work organisation for guidance and motivation.
Values-based School Leaders are transparent about sharing and communicating their values and in helping their staff and pupils to connect to their own core values and those of the community they serve and learn within.
Values-based leadership is described by Richard Barrett, author of Building a Values-Driven Organisation, as “…a way of making authentic decisions that builds trust and commitment.”
Research tells us that values-based leadership is most effective when these values are ‘truly lived’ by the leadership team who model these values in their everyday attitude, approach, behaviours and decision-making.
This demonstrates their inherent commitment to their values in a real and observable way and encourages the whole of the organisation to make choices to internalise and act out of these values. As a consequence, these values become the “moral compass “that puts people before processes; helps our problem solving and guides our decision making about what is the right thing to do even when it might not be the easiest thing to do.

What role has values-based leadership played in your career?

Values are at the heart of our identity – they guide and enable us to show up as our best selves and they help us to know when things are not in alignment with our own integrity.
As a black woman, who started her career as a teacher, my values have always driven my next career move.  I began teaching because of my love for learning and I felt I could make a difference for black children in the education system. My values of achievement and equality were driving that move to make a positive difference here.
I began teaching a wide eyed young black woman full of promise and energy for change and I left teaching because the system had not changed for black children and I realised that black staff had it tough too! As a teacher my values of integrity were driving me to move out of the profession I loved. Self-preservation was paramount.
So I stepped out of statutory education into the social sector and helped to run a black supplementary school. My values of self-determination, the right to choose my own way, were my driving force.

Why is values-based leadership important for Headteachers and School Leaders?


‘Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique.  It comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher’

Parker J Palmer,  The Courage to Teach

I have coached hundreds of leaders from across many sectors, including the education sector, and have come to understand the key importance that values play in addressing the struggles leaders face and in enhancing and building their leadership skills.
Coaching has allowed me to draw out some common themes which seem to be important and relevant for all leaders including School Leaders. I also have the perspective of being ‘under’ leadership within the educational field as a pupil, teacher and educator inside and outside of the statutory sector.
When do we know we are being led by strong and vibrant values leadership in our places of work? How does it affect our morale, commitment and productivity? How do we know when the leadership is not living out of their defined values and how does that affect our commitment to the organisation and the leader?
Our values drive how we show up in the world as ourselves. When we embrace our values we are communicating ‘This is who I am, and this is what I represent’.  Values-based leadership is therefore critical for School Leaders who are shaping and cultivating the school ethos for staff, pupils and their families.
Like many leaders, School Leaders may be challenged by a multitude of issues including managing change; feelings of isolation; communication breakdowns and motivating teams.  Sometimes the giving and receiving of honest feedback has faltered.
Sometimes we struggle supporting others to see and “catch” our vision. Sometimes leaders are trying to hold and manage their own very real feelings of fear, vulnerability and overwhelm. When things go astray it is often because we have temporarily lost sight of our values and we are unable to stand strong within them.  A return to our values base returns us also to personal authority where we can go with “our gut” making clear decisions and communicating the reason we are making those decisions to our staff, pupils and parents.
School leaders have to deal with a great swathe of issues on a daily basis which are not easy to address. Returning to look at them through a values lens while connecting them to our purpose and service to the school and community will provide School Leaders with the best way forward even if it is a “road less travelled” by the organisation previously.  Core values such as integrity; honesty; transparency; compassion and building an open learning culture become the bedrock upon which they stand.
Defining and living out of their values allows leaders to operate from a centred position, rooted in what matters and empowered to make the most authentic decisions in alignment with the vision for the school.  Knowing what you stand for and knowing what matters most, makes it easier to know the right thing to do, especially when difficult decisions need to be made. Personal authority and inspiration go together.

What are the principles of values-based leadership and how are useful for School Leaders?

The four principles of values-based leadership are self-reflection, balance, true self-confidence, and genuine humility.  These principles show up time and time again when I coach leaders who find themselves frustrated, isolated, doubting themselves, in conflict with their teams, driving change, seeking new opportunities and overcoming challenges.
Self-reflection. As a values-based leader, School Leaders know what they stand for and what matters most.  They are the ones being held accountable. Self-reflection can be difficult as it involves looking at our choices, our behaviours, our attitudes, and our feelings. asking ourselves some probing questions can help to seek out the unconscious biases that we need to make more conscious choices.
Balance.  School leaders understand the need to see many sides and multiple perspectives.  Balance means not just being aware of the different perspectives but being willing to truly seek to understand these perspectives with an open mind and open heart.
True self-confidence. True self confidence is about honest understanding of oneself.  It is where the values-based leader is able to honestly accept their strengths and their weaknesses and be willing to develop the areas for self-improvement.  The School Leader will accept and embrace the gifts and strengths of others which they lack themselves and yet see this as a gift offered by embracing the talents of the team rather than any sense of deficiency.
Genuine humility. The values-based leader remembers the ‘strengths and the struggles’ on the road to leadership, which helps them to keep a perspective on the struggles others might be facing. They use their learning as a basis for valuing and respecting the journeys of others who they encounter in their role.  They are driven by the personal satisfaction they get from creating opportunities for others to realise their potential.

What are the benefits of values-based leadership for School Leaders?

School leaders who lead from a values-based approach are more likely to make better choices based on doing the right thing. They will be aware that they have unconscious biases and will be willing to address these as part of an ongoing journey of self-discovery. Their decisions will be transparent and understood by the school as they are rooted in the values of the leader and the school.
School leaders are likely to build better trusting relationships with those within the school and the wider community.  This trust is built from the School Leader being seen to live their values and is critical to maintaining relationships in challenging times.
School leaders are more likely to lead from an authentic position if their leadership is coming from their values. They are more likely to feel aligned with their purpose and therefore feel more resilient in times of challenge and change and more inspired during times of opportunity and growth.
So that is why, who I am and how I show up in the world is inspired by values-based leadership. I am still inspired by my values and use them as my moral compass. My values show who I am, what I stand for and what matters most. Values-based leadership is not going to resolve every problem and soothe every ill.  There are the paradoxes in values, and cultural differences in values, and a complexity in living our values, but I still think that it is a great starting point.


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2 Responses

  1. Wow! I am just blown away by reading this post, I identified with every sentence as this is the leadership I aspire to replicate in my school. I am currently learning about leadership and is very impressed with the characteristics and attributes of a leader. The four principles of values-based leadership give credence to the fact that leaders must be able to influence others and build trusting relationships.
    As such I want to connect the attributes of values-based leadership within that of a teacher leader in a school setting. As teacher leaders are influencers, communicators, empathetic, collaborative and sees opportunities in every obstacle faced. As you gracefully mentioned “when we embrace our values we are communicating ‘This is who I am, and this is what I represent’.
    The world need leaders in all faucets of society and life; but more so the schools, as what better way to effect a positive social change than within a school. I appreciate your insight on the characteristics of values-based leadership and the reverberation of this quote in my head has even gotten louder… “The most dangerous leadership myth is that leaders are born—that there is a genetic factor to leadership. This myth asserts that people simply either have certain charismatic qualities or not. That’s nonsense; in fact, the opposite is true. Leaders are made rather than born.” —Warren G. Bennis

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