The Values, Ethics, Beliefs & Characteristics of Leaders

by Terri Williams

Group leaders set the tone for their followers. Whether it is a business, a religious or political organization, a sports team or a family unit, the principles, moral code and traits of the leader shape the group. And while it is impossible to characterize the traits of every individual in a leadership position, four areas provide a modicum of insight regarding the composition and makeup of a leader.

Values

“The only true leadership is values-based leadership,” wrote Henry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr., a clinical professor of management and strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. Kraemer, who wrote the book “From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership,” lists self-reflection or critical self-examination as his first principle. Balance or objectivity is the second principle of values-based leadership. The third principle is self-confidence, and the fourth principle of Kraemer’s values-based leadership is humility.

Ethics

Ethical leadership is grounded in honesty and responsibility. Phil Rabinowicz, a consultant in adult education and nonprofit development, notes that ethical leaders treat others -- within and outside of the organization -- with fairness, honesty and respect. In addition, they put the good of the organization ahead of their own interests or ego. They also look for ways to minimize harm to others during the decision making process. Rabinowicz also notes that when leaders practice ethical behavior, their actions have the power to build trust, credibility and respect in the individual’s leadership and in the organization as a whole.

Beliefs

A leader’s beliefs shape the organization for better or for worse. A study conducted by Thomas Sy of the University of California Riverside, and published in the July 2010 issue of the journal "Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes," revealed that if leaders believed their employees were industrious, enthusiastic and good citizens, the leaders treated the workers positively. And, the leaders were also more inclined to see the leadership potential in these employees. However, if the leaders thought the workers were lazy, insubordinate and were nonconformists, their interactions with these employees were negative, and they were less likely to see the potential in these workers -- even if these employees were just as competent as those viewed positively.

Characteristics

In addition to the values, ethics and beliefs of leaders, there are certain characteristics that may determine if they can successfully lead others. Jeffrey Cohn, a business author and an adviser to high-potential executives and corporate boards, wrote on CNN that leaders must possess passion to keep going when times are rough. In addition, they need good judgment and the courage to make tough decisions. Cohn also states that they need a compelling vision that they can share to inspire their followers, and they must possess the ability to empathize with others. Cohn is a former fellow at the Harvard Business School and the CEO Leadership Institute at Yale.

About the Author

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

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