Values Based Leadership Essentials for the 21st Century
by Sheila Murray Bethel, Ph.D.
Can you train someone to be a leader? Can you develop leadership
qualities within yourself? The answer is yes. In fact, we must -- as individuals,
organizations, and a nation. Across the country, people are reassessing
priorities and reevaluating policies, procedures, and people resources. The
next century will be the most challenging the world has ever faced. Without
effective leaders at every level of our society, we will be ill equipped to meet
One of the most exciting prospects in the next century is a new definition
of success. We will still want to be successful, but that concept will include the
necessity for making a contribution, a personal difference. That means that you
and will take responsibility for leading ourselves first, then extending these skills
to our families, jobs, and communities. This kind of grassroots leadership is what
will make the difference in building our organizations and our country.
Effective, value-based leadership has two parts. First is the desire to
serve, to be a servant-leader. (The Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu defined a
leader as "one who serves.") Second is understanding that we lead first by
example. Everything we say or do sends a message, sets a tone, or teaches
people what to do or not to do.
With this foundation firmly in place, you can focus on the twelve essential
qualities for serving more effectively and setting powerful examples that motivate
and inspire others-- the qualities that make you a leader who makes a difference.
1. Have a mission that matters.
Having a mission that matters, one that makes a difference, is at the core
of leadership. It motivates and inspires followers. It is a powerful leadership
quality that builds charisma. It releases leaders' full potential and is their driving
force. A mission acts like a magnet in attracting others. Missions often start
small; their size is not important. That the leader has a mission is what's
important. A clear, value-based mission is a shining example to followers.
2. Be a big thinker.
Robert F. Kennedy, quoting poet Robert Frost, said, "Some men see
things as they are and say, 'Why?' I dream of things that never were and say,
'Why not?'" Leaders have the ability to visualize on a larger perspective. Leaders
are courteous and have what Cavett Robert calls "Divine Discontent." They
challenge tradition, are not afraid of idealism, and are eager to create and
bring out the best in others. Big thinkers have a clear definition of their personal
goals and have the ability to help others expand their thinking and imagination.
3. Be ethical.
Albert Schweitzer said, "Ethics is the maintaining of life at the highest
point of development." A leader has clearly defined ethics and is steadfast in
upholding them, even in the worst of times. Reaching for the highest point of
development is the example leaders set for their followers. Leaders have a
keen sense of fairness and justice. They are high principled and law abiding.
They value the rights of others and respect their followers. They have strong
convictions and are not afraid to stand and be counted. They know that true
success means having high ethics.
4. Be a change-master.
Rosabeth Moss Kanter calls leaders "prime movers." They move people in
directions more beneficial to all. Leaders have the ability to create change, to
accept it, handle it, and succeed during times of change. They welcome change
as the only constant in life. They learn from the past and then let it go. They don't
burden themselves with old ideas, prejudices, habits, or processes. Inspired
leaders look for the opportunity in change and understand that they don't have to
like the change, but they must understand it. They live by the tenet of the
Serenity Prayer, "God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot
change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the
5. Be sensitive.
Sensitivity is a new quality for today's leaders. We live in a much more
complex and quickly changing world than past leaders did, so we must be
sensitive to a wider range of concerns. Today's leaders must be sensitive to
the needs, values, and perceptions of their followers because, without
responsive, productive people, other considerations quickly become secondary.
Sensitivity builds one of the most desirable qualities in a follower -- loyalty. Daniel
Yankelovich describes sensitivity as one of the "soft" qualities crucial to a
leader's effectiveness. At its best, sensitivity is called "people building."
6. Be a risk taker.
Risk taking is a vital part of leadership. Leaders have the courage to begin
while others are waiting for better times, safer situations, or assured results.
Leaders are willing to take a risk because they know that too much caution and
indecision rob them of opportunity and success. They are willing to fail in order to
succeed. Leaders know that no one wins all the time, and that winning is not
always the goal. They take initiative, are independent, and are not unduly
influenced by others. Leaders live by the philosophy that "anything worth doing is
worth doing poorly -- at first." They allow themselves and others to grow by
making mistakes. They don't expect perfection. President Harry Truman said,
"Life is risky." Leaders take risks.
7. Be a decision maker.
Deciding to decide is often more difficult than carrying through, once the
decision has been made. Leaders know that not deciding is a decision. It allows
time, fate, and circumstances to make the choices. The leader is aware of this
and would rather make a wrong decision than none at all. Few decisions in life
are so critical that they cannot be corrected. Leaders know that indecision wastes
time, energy, talent, money, and opportunity. They make decisions and
commitments to avoid future failures. Leaders are willing to make decisions and
plans that affect future generations because they know indecision will forfeit
8. Use power wisely.
Leaders do not shrink from power, nor do they seek it unnecessarily. They
know that having clout often intimidates others, so they use their power
judiciously. They "pull rank" only in emergencies. Leaders know that the "higher
up you go, the more gently down you reach." They use their power to direct
others and help them achieve their full potential. Leaders take responsibility for
themselves, their actions, and the results. They use their power to instill this
example in others. They know that power and greatness are not a goal, but
rather byproducts of learning how to serve.
9. Be a communicator.
The power to communicate is the key to forging productive relationships.
Good communication pays off in a leader's ability to:
· Motivate and inspire people.
· Take action.
· Maintain focus on the issues.
· Prevent communication breakdowns.
· Resolve conflicts.
· Provide accurate information.
· Build cooperation and trust.
The better a leader communicates, the better the chance to make a
difference. "What you are speaks so loudly, I cannot hear what you say," wrote
author Ralph Waldo Emerson. When a leader's words and actions match,
communication becomes the highest form of leading by example.
10. Be a team builder.
Team building encompasses all the qualities of a leader. It maximizes the
potential of both leader and follower. The team building leader of the next century
will be a coach -- directing, motivating, training, delegating, and making work
enjoyable. Team building is the catalyst of all a leader wants to accomplish.
Servant-leaders create teams of caring, cooperative, committed followers. A
leader recently said, "Team building is the most difficult and at the same time the
most rewarding of all my responsibilities."
11. Be courageous.
"You must do the thing you cannot do," said Eleanor Roosevelt. "You gain
strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop
to look fear in the face." Leaders must have a strong belief system so they
can withstand and boldly meet today's challenges while maintaining their
courage and convictions. Believing in their physical, emotional, intellectual,
and spiritual standards and values enables them to apply their resources and
creative energy when faced with problems of overwhelming odds. General
George C. Patton said that courage is "fear holding on another minute." Leaders
are valiant and undaunted in their approach to life. They "hold on." They venture
forth with faith and stamina and set a courageous example for others to
12. Be committed.
Commitment is a primary word for leaders. They realize that, without it, all
else is meaningless. Commitment runs deep in leaders. Dedication to their
missions pull others to them. Their commitment exudes confidence and hope.
Others become committed when they are with an unselfish, committed leader.
They commit to high standards of excellence for themselves and others. They
know that people grown when striving for excellence. They determine a course,
make a plan and have the self discipline to follow through, despite obstacles.
Leaders stay long after others give up. They know that life and business
are like the seasons; thus their commitment is sustained through good and bad,
hot and cold, and ups and downs. They know that spring (hope and opportunity)
follows winter (darkness and lack of growth). Leaders are committed to their
goals while living one day at a time, knowing that if they take care of today,
tomorrow will take care of itself. Above all, leaders that make a difference
© Bethel Institute, 2003
Sheila Murray Bethel, Ph.D. is author of the best-selling book, Making a Difference 12
Qualities That Make You A Leader, host of the Public Television series Making a
Difference, and recipient of the Speaker Hall of Fame award. She can be reached at 800
548-8001, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit at her web site: