Value Systems : Spirituality in the Workplace : Congruence of Leader, Follower and Organizational Values

Barry Doublestein is President of the newly-formed Institute for Leadership in Medicine. As a not-for-profit institution, their purpose is to train qualified physician-leaders for the medicine.

Barry is President of the Osteopathic Institute of the South, an organization dedicated to the training of medical students and Chairman of the Board of Masterworks Foundation, an arts-related institution, focused on training artists from a distinctively-Christian worldview.

Barry is aIso a doctoral student in the School of Leadership Studies at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Virginia.


Recently, while leading a generic career choice seminar for support staff at a medical school, I was amazed to see that the entire focus of the session shifted to the participants’ desire to see spirituality played out in the workplace. New to leadership theory is this phenomenon that people find meaning in their work by using their creativity in service to mankind. Their spirituality is a basis for their personal values and meaning, for spirituality is synonymous with personal awareness. Workers’ value to an organization is no longer seen through the eyes of efficiency or an accountant’s attention to the bottom line. Although important aspects of business, a shift has been made away from these factors to the development of followers to become their best selves in accomplishing an organization’s purpose. Gilbert Fairholm in his book, Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace, defines spirituality in organizations as the inner values of the leader and the followers, the mature principles, qualities and influences that are implicitly exhibited in behavior and interactions with other people.

Spirituality in the workplace fosters interactive trust, shared ideals, customs, and standards. In other words, it is based upon a mutually-accepted cultural morality. It involves moral leadership and the application and integration of these basic morals or values in the workplace. There must, however, be congruence between the organization’s and followers’ purposes and values and how they are supported or played-out in the everyday structure of that same organization. If value congruence is lacking between these participants and the organization to which they belong, all will never reach their fullest potential.

Because the career choice seminar became so spiritually focused, I asked the participants if they knew the core values of the medical school prior to the acceptance of their position on staff. None of them had. So as a follow-up question, I asked them how they knew that there would be congruence between their values and the organization’s. Since they needed a job, they said that they assumed that they could adapt to the school’s values as long as they did not conflict with their own; but, primarily, they based their choice to join the organization on how they saw the top leadership interact with them and others. If this holds true from one institution to another, first impressions made during an interview are critical; for it is at this time that candidates form their understanding of the organization and whether there is congruence between their values and that of the leader. People are willing to follow a leader if they see that he/she believes in something they believe themselves; just as passionately.

Of course, leaders need to be sure that their organization’s values are clearly identified and effectively communicated to their staff, followers and the surrounding public. Leaders must passionately believe in these values and model them; for it is in the modeling that others are then motivated to do likewise. The problem though, is that few organizations have clearly stated values. As Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner cite in their book, The Leadership Challenge, one cannot believe in a messenger if one does not know what the messenger believes. It has been said that one cannot know if they have arrived if they did not know where they were headed; so, organizations and individuals must know their core values and evaluate all interactions in life against them.

Imagine how successful our organizations would be if leaders promoted a consistent set of values instead of one set for the public and another for their personal life. Fairholm has said that if we ignore our values at work, it is likely that the moral tone of the rest of our lives will decline. Should our focus then be striving for consistency and congruence between the two? Can we also assume that decline will happen in our organizations if we do not have congruence between public and personal values? Imagine the extent of our success if the operational structure of our organizations match espoused values. Relevant to my seminar participants, if the medical school values creating physicians who respect their patients, should it not also respect those same physicians-in-training in the process? Likewise, if the school believes in respecting life, should it not also respect its staff? An organization can not long exist if its structure opposes its values or its purposes.

Values congruence is exactly what the career seminar participants wanted to see at the school. In fact, Kouzes and Posner say that people cannot fully commit to an organization or a movement that does not fit with their own beliefs, and that leaders must pay as much attention to personal values as they do to organizational values if they want dedicated constituents and workers. My seminar participants said that if they were treated with respect by their top leadership, they would be willing to go above and beyond the call of duty just to advance the organization for it would be an extension of themselves and their core values.

The group participants were also careful to point out that self and organizational values must be consistent and not open to compromise. Aubrey Malphurs in his book, Values-Driven Leadership: Discovering and Developing Your Core Values for Ministry, touched on three principles that are enemies to core values: conflict, compromise and institutionalization. Conflict is normal within organizations but leaders must be careful how they respond to it for one way leads to protection and preservation of the values, and the other to an undermining or a negation of those values through compromise. A leader’s job is not to keep peace; on the contrary, it is to remain focused on those core values that drive the organization. A ‘peace at all costs’ mentality will do nothing to advance an organization, in fact, it will render it impotent. Institutionalization stifles creativity and shifts the focus from values and purposes to processes in which programs become sacred cows, often to the detriment of the organization. Institutionalization leads to protection of programs that may no longer reinforce core values. The only successful weapon to battle institutionalization is periodic evaluation and analysis.

So where does all of this discussion leave us? First of all, people want to be able to live out their spirituality in the workplace and they want their leaders to do so as well. They want to know their own core values and those of their organization, but, more so, they want to see genuineness between how the organization operates and what it believes at its core. If there is congruence between these elements, then, and only then, will the organization and its participants reach their full potential. Leaders must concern themselves with the enemies of core values: conflict, compromise and institutionalization. They must work diligently to live out, monitor and evaluate how successfully they are bringing values-congruence to their followers and their organization.


Ó Copyright Barry Doublestein, 2006 - All Rights Reserved


Suggested reading:

Fairholm, Gilbert (2000). Capturing the Heart of Leadership: Spirituality and Community in the New American Workplace. Westport, CT: Praeger.

Kouzes, James and Posner, Barry (2002). The Leadership Challenge: 3rd Edition. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Malphurs, Aubrey (2004). Values-Driven Leadership: Discovering and Developing Your Core Values for Ministry, 2nd Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

Rokeach, Milton (1979).  Understanding Human Values: Individual and Societal. New York, NY: The Free Press.

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