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Values-Based Leadership


Values-based leadership is the idea that leaders should draw on their own and followers' values for direction, inspiration and motivation.

I am grateful to James Scouller, an expert coach, thinker, and writer on leadership, for the contribution of most of the technical content on this article, and for the collaboration in editing it and presenting it here. Aside from what follows here, Scouller's expertise in leadership theory is evidenced particularly in his 2011 book "The Three Levels of Leadership", which I commend to you.

We should first define 'values'. The OED says in this context they mean: "Principles or standards of behaviour; one's judgement of what is important in life." 

Values-based leadership philosophy asserts that people are mostly motivated by values; people care deeply about their personal values, and live according to them.

In other words, values are our most natural motivators.

So it makes sense, and is natural, for leaders to refer to their own values in creating a vision or making decisions.

And equally it makes sense for leaders to connect with their followers' values - because this appeals to what is important to people - which makes people (followers) more likely to act.

Richard Barrett, author of Building a Values-Driven Organization, defines values-based leadership as "...a way of making authentic decisions that builds the trust and commitment of employees and customers."

As a philosophy, this leadership philosophy assumes that an organization based around shared values is likely to be more flexible and more productive than one working towards an aim that few people care about.


Leaders who apply this philosophy are likely to experience certain inner benefits.

  • First, leaders will make better choices - that are comfortable for Leaders to act on.
  • Second, leaders are likely to build better, more trusting, less stressful relationships with followers.
  • Third, leaders are more likely to feel aligned with their 'authentic self'.

Note the third point especially. It reveals the overlap between values-based leadership and authentic leadership. A person's values are at the core of their sense of identity; their sense of who they are. So by definition, authentic leaders will always act from their highest values.


James Scouller Biography

I am grateful to James Scouller for his help, patience, and expert contribution in producing this leadership guide.

James Scouller is an expert coach and partner at The Scouller Partnership in the UK, which specialises in coaching leaders. He was chief executive of three international companies for eleven years before becoming a professional coach in 2004. He holds two postgraduate coaching qualifications and trained in applied psychology at the Institute of Psychosynthesis in London.

James Scouller's book is called "The Three Levels of Leadership: How to Develop Your Leadership Presence, Know-how and Skill". It was published in May 2011. I commend it to you, and his thinking too.

You can learn more about James Scouller's book at three-levels-of-leadership.com.

Details of James Scouller's executive coaching work are at TheScoullerPartnership.co.uk.