A question I get quite frequently is “What makes a good leader?” One of the most important aspects of a good leader is that they have values. This may at first sound noncontroversial, but we are surrounded today by leaders who do not have values or whose only values are to get rich personally or to be powerful (or both). Tech investors have been especially guilty of enabling charismatic leaders, and sometimes even non-charismatic but wildly successful ones, who are fundamentally hollow and without values.
How and why do values matter? Because leadership is ultimately about making certain difficult decisions. Decisions that only the leader can make and where everyone else is looking to the leader to make the decision. What makes a decision difficult? When there is a lot at risk, high uncertainty of outcome, and when there are strong voices arguing for opposing options. In those situations what can you ground your decision in as a leader?
Too often these days we see leaders who go with whatever is best for themselves, or with whoever is shouting the loudest at the moment, or maybe even whoever they last talked to. None of that is leadership. Leadership is when you make a decision based on values, explain the decision in terms of those values and use those values to rally support for the decision.
I have been asking myself why so few leaders these days appear to have clear values. One reason appears to be that we are still stuck in the “greed is good” phase of capitalism which per the Friedman doctrine reduced values to profit. Another reason I suppose is a broad decline in religious conviction as a source of values. Finally, with a son who is just applying to college, I have noticed that higher education is oddly value free. Go to the homepages of a university and look for anything about values. The occasional mission statement aside there is very little to be found.
So if you are in a leadership role or aspire to be in one, a great starting point to ask what your values are. What are your grounding your decisions in?