Value Systems : Returning to Values to Make an Impact

Richard Pfohl has worked with various Fortune 500 high-tech, insurance, telecommunications, software, utilities and government organizations. He has been involved with various organizations which promote leadership like CBMC and Vision New England. Presently, Richard is the Leader of the Hartford chapter of CBMC. He is also enrolled in the Doctor of Strategic Leadership Program at Regent University School of Leadership Studies, Virginia Beach, Virginia. He can be contacted via



Our society is losing touch with the human values which have typically been spilled over into our organizations. Since then these values have eroded and have left our followers feeling alone and uncertain about their future and their role within our organizations.  According to Hans Joas in The Genesis of Values this values erosion has been influenced by the negative effects of capitalism, the influence of a liberal upbringing, the loss of role models and the courage to demand discipline. In Values-Based Leadership Kuczmarski states, “the problems that plague our society are mirrored in the workplace.” Values are being lost within our society and those who have the responsibility for casting values are either too busy or too tired to make it happen.


So what do leaders need to do as a result of this? Where do they need to begin in the return to values? Hans Joas believes we need to return to the genesis of values. He tells us that Western societies all over are having serious discussions about values. The discussion centers around a “shift in and loss of, values, the opportunities and dangers which processes present, and the necessity of either reviving old values or searching for new ones.” Joas believes we need to look to our experiences where our values arise in self-formation and self-transcendence. To Joas the journey of returning to values begins with understanding how they arise. Is this the path we need to take in our return to values or is there more beyond the thinking of Joas?

How do Values Arise?

To better understand how a leader can return to values is to see how they arise, change and become lost. Based on research there seems to be unanimous consensus that a change in values cannot occur but the work of Emile Durkheim demonstrates how a “symptom of crisis” can lead to a loss of values. Durkheim’s work shows us how the present reality of values erosion can take place which puts leaders in a place where they need to understand how values arise.


This understanding will allow the leader to connect to followers through value commitments. These values commitments, according to Joas, “do not arise from conscious intentions” but from “the highest expression of our free will.” In Value-Driven Leadership Aubrey Malphurs explains the result of these values commitments result in people who “are more willing to make personal sacrifices, they perform above normal expectations, and they will not leave the organization for their own self-interests.”


As leaders it is important to realize where values arise within ourselves and our followers so we can learn to connect with them. Hans Joas would have us believe they arise from within our experiences but this is not the whole truth. Malphurs shows us values are biblical, sacred or secular. So what is the difference? Malphurs states, “the difference is their source.” The depth of any study of the origin of values is only as deep as the source of their origin. If the source of the values are in man then their depth is as deep as man. If the source of the values are in our Creator then their depth is as deep as the Creator.


As we discover the origin of values many theories have resulted to explain whether values come from within ourselves, from within ourselves and the interaction with others and/or from something greater than ourselves which would be the sacred values Malphurs is speaking of. To understand this we should look to a few theories which explain where our values originate.

The Origin of Values

According to Raymond Boudon in The Origin of Values our first task is to obtain an overview of all the theories on this subject so as to understand their origin. They can be classified as either irrational or rational theories. As irrational theories Boudon points out decisionist, fideist and causalist. As rational theories Boudon points out absolutist and contextualist. Let’s look at these theories and understand their basis within the origin of values.


A decisionist is someone who looks for values inward toward their own heart and will. This makes it quite humanistic in nature. A fideist would be the opposite of this because they believe in using faith alone rather than reason when determining the origin of values. A causalist is someone who believes our values might arise from previous mental states rather than from a present consciousness. Therefore these values are not grounded but caused. As we can see these irrational theories are quite different from each other and could result in differing worldviews when it comes to values. Let’s now look to the rational theories and see what their basis is in the understanding of the origin of values.


An absolutist believes values are absolute and there is a right and wrong devoid of any context. The contrast to this theory is relativism and some believe a contextualist belief might lead to relativism. A contextualist is someone who believes values can only be understood in relation to the context. This is a prevalent thought among leaders today within our organizations and a worldview which is not rooted in an absolute right or wrong.


The “I” and the “Ought” are two clashing pieces within this list of theories which battle for control of a leader’s worldview. The “I” is ego-affirming which is a focus on supporting and upholding the self. It is more humanistic in nature and leads to a humanist worldview. The “Ought” is ego-transcending which is a focus on rising above and going beyond yourself and leads to a worldview which goes outside of yourself. A worldview which is ego-transcending does not always lead to a positive end. Let’s review some of these worldview’s and see their affects on leadership.

Competing Worldviews

We can look to many worldviews which may assist leaders in a return to values. In Leadership: Theory and Practice Peter Northouse gives of three approaches which include; ethical egoism, utilitarianism and altruism. These worldviews are related to leadership theories and can have an effect on the values of our followers. A worldview of ethical egoism which is rooted in self-interest would be related to a transactional leadership style. A transactional leader is only concerned with what is ego-affirming. All values for a transactional leader are transactions and their followers get only what they give to their leader. In Ethics, the Heart of Leadership Joanne Ciulla tells us transactional leadership is “grounded in a worldview of self-interest.” This worldview would not result in the value commitments described by Malphurs earlier. Other theories which are leader centric would fall in this category like the trait, skills and style approaches to leadership.


A worldview of utilitarianism which is rooted in the greater good for the greatest amount of people would result in action that “maximizes social benefits while minimizing social costs,” according to Northouse. This worldview would sit in between ego-affirming and ego-transcendent. Many of the leadership theories fall into this category because they are not based on self-interest nor are they completely transcendent. Some examples of these leadership theories would be path-goal, contingency and situational leadership. Joanne Ciulla might argue that transformational leadership would fall within this category as well. She has made a case for the separation of transformational leadership which could lead to some ego-affirming behaviors and authentic transformational leadership which is truly transcendent. These leadership theories may look ego-transcendent but their root is in motivation. The focus on motivation is ego-affirming because it is basically getting the leader what he or she wants through a focus on the employee’s motivation.   


A worldview of altruism would demonstrate concern for the best of others and would be related to an authentic transformational leadership theory. Leaders who take this worldview would act in the interest of others even when it runs contrary to their own self-interests. Servant leadership would also fall into this category as it is truly follower based and outside of the leader’s self-interests. This worldview would likely produce the value commitments described by Malphurs. Based on this which worldview will you choose to produce value commitments and be more effective in value building?

Which Worldview Will you Choose?

As previously stated, values are eroding in our world and this erosion is seaping over into our organizations. A leader’s worldview can either contribute to this downward trend or change the course of this erosion and lead them to better connections with their followers which will improve and strengthen their organizational values. In The Leadership Challenge, Kouzes and Posner state, “from heightening uncertainty across the world to an intense search for meaning, our connections as people and as leaders are part of this context.” The worldview you choose to use as a leader will determine the path of your leadership journey and the connection you have with your followers. So what can leaders do to connect with their followers and return to a relationship based on values?


We can certainly begin with Jesus. When referring to Jesus, George Barna, in Think Like Jesus says, “First, He had a foundation that was clear, reliable and accessible. Second, He maintained a focus on God’s will. Third, He evaluated all information and experiences through a filter that produces appropriate choices. Fourth, He acted in faith.” Through foundation, focus, filter and faith Jesus was an exemplary example of leading through his worldview.


What does this mean for leaders? Kouzes and Posner state, “leaders take every opportunity to show others by their own example that they’re deeply committed to the values and aspirations they espouse. Leading by example is how leaders make visions and values tangible.” Jesus led by example and did not miss one opportunity to align others to Kingdom values. It is this example which brings leaders to legitimacy with their followers.


Leaders are also called to align values. Proverbs 11:28 says, “He who trusts in riches will fall, But the righteous will flourish like a green leaf.” David states in Psalm 52:8, “But I am like an olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” Psalm 92:12-14 says when we flourish we bear fruit even in old age. It is the role of the leader to help followers flourish and align their values. This will allow leaders to influence and connect with their followers.


Does this solve the problem of values erosion for our followers and improve their condition? Certainly a leader who applies a worldview which is more ego-transcending can achieve better results. This will certainly move leaders in the right direction but there is more than just application of a worldview that is needed from the leader in order to flourish. If we look at what Barna stated again we see that Jesus had a foundation, focus, filter and faith. In order to stop the erosion of values a leader will need a foundation which means they need to be clear, reliable and accessible for their followers. They will also need to focus and filter values and finally they need to believe in their followers. This begins by seeing followers as more than just bearers of tasks and objectives but also as bearers of values as well.


In order to connect with their followers leaders need to utilize a worldview which will create this connection. This connection calls for a return to the genesis of values so leaders can impact the values of their followers. 


Copyright 2007 - Richard Pfohl


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