What makes me a good role model? And: Who decides what’s good? These are questions we have to ask ourselves when we take on the task of guiding other people with modern and effective leadership.
But let’s start off with the question “who decides what good leadership is?” The answer is easy: Everyone does, always, everywhere! Our behaviour is constantly being watched and evaluated by everyone around us—whether we are aware of it or not. This means—and no-one with the exposure of a corporate leader should make a mistake here—that you are always leaving an impression!
This entails that your behaviour is constantly and indelibly being rated by others—whether consciously in an outspoken way or unknowingly and in secret! On the same note, the same type of behaviour can be interpreted in a completely different way by different people. Some things that I think are good, others will see as bad and wrong. But what is the cause for this seemingly paradoxical effect? It all breaks down to the value systems of the individual or the groups they belong to. Different values lead to a different interpretation of behaviour, because it is our values that define what’s “right or wrong” for us. This also means that our societal environment, cultural and familial upbringing, social circles and ultimately our work environment have an influence on how we judge certain actions. This explains why the people around us may experience the same person and their effort to be a good leader in completely different ways.
This is something easier said than done: It requires you to reflect on your own value system and question the effects of your behaviour and make adjustments to it if necessary—in other words, it takes a healthy dose of self-leadership. It also means you have to (want) to understand value systems that differ from your own, to accept them as legitimate and to keep these in mind when you are interacting with colleagues—enter values-based leadership.
This is a considerable challenge in the everyday work of a leader, but tools such as the W.E.R.T model are available to simplify the task. Of course, you could make things easy by surrounding yourself with people who embrace value systems that are compatible with your own. However, you would soon end up with a homogenic group of yeasayers that all think and behave in the same way, foiling the potential a more heterogenic team (higher productivity, higher creativity, a wider spectrum of skills) can offer—and killing the benefits of diversity.
A team consisting of people with different backgrounds and different value systems may pose a bigger challenge to lead, but can also provide a greater chance of success.
You may ask yourself: If my actions as a leader are always leaving an impression on people, and everyone is interpreting my behaviour differently, then how I am supposed to behave ethically, be reliable and fair? I personally believe that every leader has to find the answer to this question themself. It’s every person’s and hence every leader’s free decision to choose their own behaviour, but it’s also their own responsibility to face up to the consequences. That’s what leadership is!