Value Systems : Moving from Alienation to Significance
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
A great turmoil exists within our organizations today. Our followers are part of a global uncertainty and search for meaning which is translating back into their organizational performance. 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.” There was a time when the values within our society spilled over into our organizations. Since then these values have eroded and leave our followers feeling alone and uncertain about their future and their role within our organizations. What has happened to cause this? In Values-Based Leadership Kuczmarski states, “the disintegration of the family” is partly to blame. Kouzes tells us heightened uncertainty, increased connectivity, a global economy, a changing workforce, increased speed of delivery and a heightened search for meaning have all contributed to this erosion. Kuczmarski tells us, “the problems that plague our society are mirrored in the workplace.” Therefore leaders need to be aware of these issues and understand what their role is within this context. Their solution to alienation and uncertainty is that “employees need values they can believe in” otherwise our organizations can expect to decline in their efficiency and effectiveness. This will ultimately lead to an eroding position of our country’s competitive position.
So what can leaders do? According to Kuczmarski our followers “have an increased sense of alienation, isolation, and mistrust, with a corresponding decreased sense of self-confidence, self-worth, satisfaction and security.” How does this relate to values? Values steer or guide our behaviors and if these behaviors are evident then leaders need to look to the values causing these behaviors. Leaders need to find a way to lead followers within this alienation or anomie. Coined by Emile Durkheim anomie happens when followers feel isolated from each other. The result of anomie as Kuczmarski shows us is an inability to “develop and propagate cultural values and norms.” Durkheim saw the importance of values and ethics as key components in the effectiveness of individuals and groups within an organization. We learn from research by Aubrey Malphurs who wrote Values-Driven Leadership “that people who share core values with a ministry are more willing to make personal sacrifices, they perform above normal expectations, and they will not leave the organization for their own self-interests.” Kuczmarski gives us the result of anomie creeping into an organization. She states, “it weakens the ties and social bonds that usually hold workers and keep them going.” This results in an overall breakdown of “organizational integrity.”
The Importance of Leadership Values and Ethics
Where do organizations begin to address anomie and whos responsibility should it be to address it? Malphurs tells us it is the responsibility of all to determine if core values are shared but the primary responsibility of the leader “to see that it takes place.” The outcome of shared values is a reinforcement of commitment and trust within the leader follower relationship. Successful leaders work at “building consensus on basic values” because this is what knits together the leader and follower relationship. Understanding what values need to be sown in order to reap the benefits of this relationship is key to its success. The bible speaks of values in Galatians 5 and then in Galatians 6:7 Paul states “whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” What is the missing link? Kuczmarski tells us “leadership is the missing link to tie norms and values together within an organization.” By cultivating these norms and values leaders can once again gain, “employee commitment, high performance and productivity.”
What are values and what are ethics? Are both needed to address anomie? What is the leader’s role within this context? When it comes to values it is difficult to narrow them down. Milton Rokeach would lead us to believe values are standards of preference. If we look at the collective thoughts on values we can see how Wikipedia gives three important characteristics to values. The first characteristic is values are “developed early in life and are very resistant to change. Values rise not out of what people tell us, but as a result of how they behave toward us and others.” Thus, values do arise out of experiences as Hans Joas states in The Genesis of Values but this is not the entire picture. The second characteristic is “values define what is right and what is wrong.” This characteristic means values are intrinsic and do not involve an external code to tell us what is right and wrong. The third characteristic is values themselves “cannot be proved correct or incorrect, valid or invalid, right or wrong.” What this means is if a value can be proven this way then it is not a value. Our values drive our beliefs. So what are ethics and how are they different?
The word ethics originates from the ancient Greek word “ethikos” or “ethos” and date as far back as Plato and Aristotle. According to Peter Northouse in Leadership: Theory and Practice these words mean “customs, conduct, character” or “arising from habit.” He goes on to state ethics are “concerned with the kinds of values and morals and individual or society find desirable or appropriate.” Dictionary.com defines ethics as “the rules or standards governing conduct of a person or the members of a profession.” In Ethics, the Heart of Leadership Joanne Ciulla says, “ethics lie at the heart of all human relationships and hence at the heart of the relationship between leaders and followers.” Therefore we can begin to see how values are the foundation of our followers and ethics are the habits or conduct by which they operate.
Bruce Winston states in Be a Leader for God’s Sake, “a leader’s foundational values yield beliefs” and these beliefs yield intentions to behave” and these intentions spring “actual behavior.” This leads us to conclude that ethics result from this actual behavior and determines how a leader’s decisions are made. Ethics are the guardians which guard our human relationships and values sit at our core as our code of conduct. Based on this comparison of ethics and values then values would already be possessed by an individual before their relationship with their followers or leaders. Ethics would be the collective shared values of connected relationships which would constitute the norms of their culture within the organization. So leaders operate within the realm of ethics. So how can leaders operate within the realm of ethics and address anomie?
What Leaders Can Do and Where Can Leaders Begin?
What leadership context might be useful in addressing anomie and to “develop and propagate cultural values and norms” as Durkheim states? In moving to significance and addressing anomie within our organizations leaders who lead from a context which focuses more on followers needs and less on self-interest would go much further in connecting with them and giving them values they can believe in. Northouse points us to authentic transformational leadership as a leadership approach which is altruistic because it places the followers’ needs before the needs of the leader. Another approach would be servant leadership where the leader serves as a steward to the organizational resources.
We have demonstrated that our organizations are clearly in turmoil due to anomie creeping into them. We see that leaders have an important role in addressing this issue in relation to values erosion and its impact to the organization. So what can leaders do to address values erosion? Malphurs believes the two solutions to overcoming this erosion is through values preservation and values protection. In values preservation a leader intentional engages in values modeling and values casting. By values modeling a leader would basically live and breathe values. Kouzes calls this modeling the way and considers this one of five practices of a good leader. Kouzes states a leader needs to be “clear about their guiding principles” to be successful with this. The other piece of values preservation is values casting. In values casting the leader continually communicates the values of the organization. Malphurs believes a variety of methods will achieve this and not just one communication source. Some effective methods when used in combination are written statements, informal and formal communications, storytelling, presentations…etc. Effective values casting does not happen through one method but a variety of communication methods.
The final solution to overcoming values erosion is values protection. Leaders can protect values by prevention methods of building processes to protect values and hiring employees who share the values of the organization. Another method is through correction. Malphurs believes leaders need to “challenge people who do not share the organizational values” and are not committed to them. This is similar to another leadership practice explained by Kouzes as challenge the process. A final method to values protection is realigning. In realigning leaders determine where values are not aligned and then work with their employees to determine where realignments need to occur.
By focusing on an altruistic leadership approach, values preservation and values protection leaders can begin to address this issue of anomie and move their followers to significance. Phil Downer in Eternal Impact refers to success as “the feeling you get by reaching your goals” and significance is “making a difference in the lives of people.” By engaging in this leaders can once again gain as Kuczmarksi states, “employee commitment, high performance and productivity.” As leaders are we looking to reach our own goals or have we been placed into leadership to help our followers attain theirs? The answer to this question is the difference between creating alienation or significance within our organizations.
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Copyright 2007 - Richard Pfohl