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Building Leadership Value

Self-reflection requires a leader to be self-aware and continually assess abilities, determining where development may be required to promote strengths and shore up or eliminate weaknesses.

May 9, 2011
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Leadership is as important to a talent management discussion as employees and performance management. It may actually be more important than those common talent topics since it —and many others — require effective leadership to be effective.

The idea of values-based leadership has emerged, likely in response to the extreme changes that have occurred in the world — and in business — in the past few years. In his book From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership, Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr., former chairman and CEO of global health care company Baxter International Inc., discusses four principles that encapsulate values-based leadership.

The book begins with a discussion of self-reflection. Without the ability to step back amid the hustle and bustle, change and drama that crop up in the average workplace, leaders cannot effectively assess how best to correct or offer guidance when employees make mistakes. Kraemer said self-reflection is central to leadership. It requires a leader to be self-aware and continually assess abilities, determining where development may be required to promote strengths and shore up or eliminate weaknesses.

It also requires a leader to be aware of the ramifications that surround decision making, and make what Kraemer calls explicit decisions. This means considering all available sources of information that pertain to a course of action, and understanding that there are contributing factors, causes, and direct and indirect outcomes that impact a decision. For instance, there may be a perfectly good reason why an employee continually makes the same mistake. A values-based leader will work to uncover that reason before attempting corrective action.

The second values-based leadership quality is balance — the ability and desire to see a situation from multiple perspectives and gain a holistic understanding. This holistic viewpoint is in direct contrast to a narrower, perhaps knee-jerk reaction to a problem. A manager in pursuit of balance will seek the input and opinions of all team members, soliciting feedback regularly in order to be well informed. “Whether you are a manager with two or three direct reports, or the CEO of a large publicly traded company, balance will help you become a well-rounded, global-thinking person with more meaningful and satisfying interactions with others,” Kraemer wrote.

Third is self-confidence. Kraemer said someone is truly self-confident he or she knows they cannot be good at everything. “You know that there will always be people who are smarter, more talented, more articulate and more successful than you are…you recognize your shortcomings, weaknesses and past failures without the need to hide, overcompensate, or beat yourself up.” That kind of self-awareness can increase empathy, which can be handy when a manager must correct a direct report or even call out a peer who is making a potentially troublesome mistake. Further, true self-confidence can be contagious and can help to elevate team and even organizational performance.

Fourth, values-based leadership requires genuine humility. Like many leaders, Kraemer began his career in a small cubicle. “Not more than six feet by six feet — if I moved my chair back too quickly, I hit my head on the metal filing cabinet directly behind me,” he wrote. He says he never forgot those humble, ordinary beginnings, and that they helped him to gain valuable perspective. To this day, he retains an appreciation for the people in those positions.

Humility can make a manager more approachable, more authentic and more open to others. The ability to appreciate the value of each individual on a team or in a department — to make others aware and consistently show that they are valued — can make those difficult conversations around performance improvements or necessary behavioral corrections easier to handle.

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