What Do You Stand For? – This is the issue that goes to the very heart of leadership. The deeply held values, drivers, motives and beliefs that distinguish the leader and his or her cause. Perhaps the most celebrated speech of all time is Martin Luther King’s’ I Have a Dream’. Just telling everyone he’s had a dream would have achieved nothing.
The underlying values were the belief in freedom, equality and the termination of discrimination. ‘ I have a dream that one day this nation will get up and live out the true meaning of its creed :’ We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal. ‘ Within that short extract is the very essence of the dream. Martin Luther King said much more that day in 1962 but his underlying values and beliefs and the aim of his campaign are there, as a great rhetorician.
There’s the difficulty. How do you assign value to your own cultural experience while you are in the experience? You require a viewpoint outside of your value system. I’ve often pointed out how necessary (and how rare) this is: how do you evaluate (‘assign value to’) your own values? That’s not an easy task. However, it’s also not impossible.
But, What About…
You somehow need to search for a super-value system-a source for meta-values: values that override personal or even collective self-interest and serve as a kind of universality or objectivity to all your other values. People have tried looking outside their human experience (to divine revelations, for example), but there is no commonality of experience-or of value-to be found there.
Not everyone is trying to influence a whole nation and its culture. Most organisational leaders are focussed on their team, department, division, or function. The asking and answering of the matter’ What Do You Stand For?’ has tremendous significance for the leader himself or herself and the population who’re expected to follow. Without clarity on the real values it is harder for people to understand, engage and feel connected. Campaign slogans like’ Yes We Can’ are brilliant in their simplicity but really understanding what’s in your head and heart is more important.
For you as a leader in the organization it is a good time to reflect on what the true values are behind your efforts and behaviour. Asking why those things are important to you, why you’re prepared to work to make those things happen and what you’ll not stand for are very enlightening for many leaders.
Writing down the answers and checking for evidence that you’re actually operating in accordance with your values is key. Integrity is often cited as an illustration of a leadership quality. Integrity means ‘oneness’ and came from the same root as integer. Behaving in a manner that matches your espoused values is exactly what integrity is.
At election time we hear plenty of politicians promising things-after elections we find out whether these were real values that they were ready to fight for or just empty words. Imagine yourself as the politician at the forthcoming election campaign in a televised interview-could you point to examples of where you’ve behaved in accordance with your values, made sacrifices to uphold what you believe in and worked to maintain what you stand for? This is the hallmark of true leadership integrity, the definition of what you stand for.