Keith Cox, Ph.D., is the Systemic Sustainability Lead for idGroup Consulting & Creative, where he focuses on positive business and social change. He is also an advisor to the Center for Values-Driven Leadership. This article is republished from the archives.
Writings on leadership date back over 5000 years to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics and have continued to be a recurrent theme amongst: philosophers, poets, playwrights, prophets, priests, royalty, scholars, and entire societies. A broad, diverse range of notable, historical figures have expounded on leadership including: Jesus, Abraham, Moses, Confucius, Plutarch, Plato, Aristotle, Caesar, Lao-tzu, Machiavelli, Napoleon, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Ghandi, and many others right up to present day “gurus” such as Jay Conger and Warren Bennis.
This perpetual passion for leadership is obvious as one begins to explore the numerous “modern day” writings on the topic. The word “leader” entered the English language around the year 1300 and the methodical study of leadership began over 600 years later in the 1930’s. Over the last 75 years leadership has literally been defined hundreds of different ways by both academics and practitioners. Clearly, it is not an easy concept to define and there are probably as many definitions of leadership as there are authors. The bottom line is that there is no single, acceptable leadership definition, theory, model, or standard.So the question still remains, what is the true meaning of leadership? Is leadership a: position, person, behavioral act, style, relationship, combination of things, or all of the above. The scholarly answer to this quandary is “yes,” or perhaps “it depends,” while many practitioners adopt a results-oriented definition specific to a particular situation.However, even with these multiple theories and models to choose from, the popular conception of leadership today seems to be that of the single individual, the heroic leader, sitting at the top of the organizational hierarchy. Nevertheless, while the individual, heroic, charismatic, and/or transformational leader may be the dominant model, we are continuing to see a “progression of thinking” about leadership that is providing new and exciting alternate leadership images for our consideration.
For example, the emergence of values-driven leadership seems to be a growing theoretical stream of thought and research well suited for the complexity of business in the 21st century. According to the Center for Values-Driven Leadership the concept can be defined as “a conscious commitment by leaders at all levels to lead with their values and create a corporate culture that optimizes financial performance, ethical practice, social contribution and environmental impact.” This emphasis on multiple stakeholders, values such as honesty, integrity, excellence, courage, humility, and trust, combined with the creation of a high performance culture is a powerful combination that many of the world’s most admired and successful companies are adopting. As Ray Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, likes to say, “it’s the way to a bigger, more legitimate profit.”
So perhaps we are seeing the beginning of a revolution in the leadership field and it’s time you explore how values-driven leadership can work for your organization!