Leadership Erosion

Jan 11

Values represent those principles and desires to which individuals ascribe meaning and purpose. In the extreme, values guide individuals in life and death situations. In routine daily activities, values inform decisions that affect quality of life, happiness and even personal liberty. Values guide the assessment of outcomes and in many cases compose an image of an ideal society.

Peaceful, harmonious society is most often a reflection of common shared values. Contentious societies result when there is discord related to core social values. Alignment of values and its effect on communities is central to a discussion of leadership.

The effectiveness and power of a leader is proportional to both alignment of and individual commitment to common values. Where there is alignment and commitment, leaders can effect transformational changes in a society. Where alignment and commitment are absent, leaders will struggle to establish consensus and unity. Leaders and followers must share common values in order for a leader to be effective in his position.

Erosion of Leadership

As consensus regarding core social values erodes, so does the ability of leaders to emerge and create unity. As value segmentation increases, the scope of a leader’s influence diminishes. This erosion of leadership with its inherent dangers was a principle concern to the founders of America. In his farewell address, George Washington cautioned that segmentation of this nature could be used to undermine the power of the people.

“However combinations or associations of the above description may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely, in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.”

There is evidence of this having occurred in the persistent gridlock of American government today. Segmentation of common values is indicated by the growing number of political parties which represent increasingly diverse constituents. When the influence of powerful lobbying groups is factored in, the overall effect of leadership erosion is significant. When no single leader or value base can rally a majority opinion, there can be no society wide movement or change.

Similar problems exist in non-governmental organizations. Businesses, non-profits and community groups depend on alignment of values to accomplish their objectives. While some may argue that compensation practices can produce alignment of effort in the absence of aligned values, this doesn’t always work, and when it does work, the cooperative effort is often short lived and inconsistent.

Establish Common Values

Today’s leaders are faced with the task of first establishing common values. It is essential that leaders understand the relationship between values and motivation. If a leader is able to first create alignment of values among his would-be followers, he will then be empowered to produce the change and movement that he envisions.

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