Question: Was Adolf Hitler a great leader? He certainly mobilized large numbers of people and pressed them into action. He even changed history. But that, in my book, is not enough to make him a great leader. Why? Because of his values. Instead of being life-affirming, Hitler’s values were life-denying. Instead of making the world a happier and better place, Hitler made the world a more difficult, dangerous, and divided place. What values are reflected in your leadership? This Provision invites you to think that question through.
My quick, opening summary of today’s Provision picked an extreme example when it comes to the values of great leaders. Almost no one would disagree that Adolf Hitler had life-denying values. Regardless, then, of the number and commitment of his followers, and regardless of whether or not he changed the course of world history, Hitler does not qualify as a great leader. That’s just not the way leadership works.
Leadership works to enhance the quality of life for one and all. It is inclusive, open, affirming, respectful, and • when necessary • even self-sacrificing to further the common good. Leadership not only raises the motivation but also the morality of people. Leadership, in other words, inspires people to be their best selves.
To get a sense of this, one might contrast the leadership of Hitler what that of Gandhi. What’s the difference? Gandhi was nonviolent; Hitler was violent. Gandhi was empowering; Hitler was controlling. Gandhi was self-sacrificing; Hitler was self-aggrandizing. Gandhi was loving; Hitler was hateful. Both were leaders, but only one was a great leader. And it was Gandhi’s values that made the difference.
Given that this Provision comes out just before Election Day in the United States, it comes as a good reminder to pay attention to the values of the candidates for whom we vote. Although many will vote on the basis of strategies (e.g., more or less government, more or less regulation, more or less protection, more or less borrowing) there is something more important than strategies: values.
We may disagree as to the strategies for meeting basic human needs, but do we agree on the value of meeting basic human needs for all people? Not just some people, but all people? That’s an example of a value that great leaders hold onto.
I’m writing this in a hotel room, for a change, rather than a car. What luxury! On Friday night I was walking back to my hotel room from a restaurant when I saw a 28-year old woman hit by a car. She received a pretty good pop, flying through the air, but miraculously lived to tell the story. I put my arms around her and comforted her while others called 911 and we all waited for the paramedics to arrive. Fortunately she was talking and conscious, albeit bruised, bleeding, and dazed.
That was my strategy. Others came up and started preaching, rather loudly, as to how important it was to pray to Jesus for protection. Others, from what I could tell, were watching and praying silently. Still others were asking her questions as to her name, local contact information, and what she remembered about the accident. They wanted to make sure she was conscious and alert. All of us were monitoring the extent of her bleeding and injuries. I continued to hold her and to offer quiet reassurance.
When the paramedics arrived, the first words out of her mouth were, “I don’t have any health insurance.” Their response? “Don’t worry about that.” That’s because Emergency Rooms in the USA are required to treat trauma victims regardless of their ability to pay. But that won’t stop the hospital from trying to collect later, and this gal was as concerned about her finances as about her injuries.
After it was over, I found myself wondering if her experience would have been any different if she was Latina or had the appearance of potentially being some other “undocumented” or “illegal” resident in the United States. I hope not. That’s a core value. I treasure a world in which all people are treated with loving kindness regardless of their legal status. People are people, and we are called to share the joys as well as the burdens of living together.
What kind of values are you looking for in the people who represent you or lead the government? What kind of values are you looking for in your boss or in the people you work with? What kind of values are you looking for in your teachers and school leaders? What kind of values are you seeking to incorporate and represent in your own leadership?
If those values are life-affirming values, then you, like, me, have a strong interest in and commitment to great leadership. Great leaders honor great values. What are those values? I would refer you to the Wheel of Needs that I have developed and is discussed in detail in our new book Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time. That’s because needs and values are almost synonyms. What we need most we also value most.
Great leadership, then, honors and values the following dimensions of life:
- Subsistence • The need to survive
- Safety • The need to be secure
- Work • The need to exert energy
- Rest • The need to recover energy
- Honesty • The need to express understanding
- Empathy • The need to receive understanding
- Autonomy • The need for independence
- Community • The need for interdependence
- Challenge • The need to explore
- Transcendence • The need to thrive
When I go into the voting booth, I am more concerned about the values of candidates than about the particular strategies they may pursue to express those values. That’s because strategies inevitably change. Compromises are made as different people with different ideas lobby for their particular viewpoints and approaches.
But what do candidates or other would-be leaders value most? That’s what I want to know. Do they honor and cherish those things that make life more wonderful for one and all? If we listen carefully, we can tell. Some candidates propagate fear, pitting people against each other as they defend special interests and causes. Other candidates propagate trust, bringing people together in as they advance universal interests and causes. Those are the people I want to vote for.
When Thomas Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the US Congress on July 4, 1776, it is no accident that he viewed certain truths as self-evident, namely that all people are created equal, that all people are endowed with certain unalienable rights, and that among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Equality. Rights. Life. Liberty. Happiness. Those things are values; they are common to all people; and values matter.
That’s what I care about when it comes to great leadership. What are the values that people affirm, express, and represent? It’s not so much what they say, although that’s important; it’s rather how they carry themselves and where they come from in life and work.
It’s impossible to ever completely hide one’s true values. That’s what so often gets leaders into trouble. They say one thing and do another. Sooner or later, however, they get caught in the act: their values are showing. Sometimes, leaders get caught with the most wonderful of life-affirming values. They reach out and touch people with love and compassion.
Other times, however, leaders get caught in the most hypocritical and compromising of positions. That’s when it’s time to change course, one way or another. Jefferson was a proponent of frequent revolutions to keep leaders honest. Others take matters into their own hands, by challenging or walking away. Moving is a time-honored way of dealing with toxic environments and toxic leaders.
However you deal with the stress of life-denying values, whether through fight, flight, or hunkering down with supportive friends and family, the key is to recognize them when you see them and take them seriously. Looking the other way is not an option when it comes to life-denying values. Such values introduce grave and costly dysfunctions for one and all.
Especially when they come from the top down. Leaders with toxic values contaminate countries, companies, organizations, and systems of all kinds. If leaders do not recognize and respect the needs of all people for subsistence, safety, work, rest, honesty, empathy, autonomy, community, challenge, and transcendence, then they certainly are not great leaders and they may even be dangerous ones.
Values matter. Make sure, then, that you express life-affirming values in your own leadership and that you support and challenge other leaders to do the same.
Coaching Inquiries: How would you describe your own values? What elements are the most life-affirming for the most people? What elements would be good to buff up and improve? How could you do that? What would help you to be more loving and kind in all that you do and all that you are?
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Form or Email Bob.
Your Provision on technology, Tech Matters, describing how you use it was inspiring!! (As all of your provisions are.) Thanks!
In your last Provision you asked, “Does the technology in your life make things easier or harder?” I’ve explored the same subject on my blog • key point is be the Master of Tech, not the Slave. Being “on” 24 hours a day is not healthy for a coach, or anyone else. Text communication is replacing conversation, and that doesn’t bode well for intimate relationships. Yes, use tech. No, do not let it replace human contact.
Thanks for a very well-written Provision on Touch Matters. It obviously reinforces your Evocative Coaching book. Do you have successful experience in getting people to read unsolicited messages forwarded to them? Unfortunately, my experience is that folks tend to delete without reading. I’d appreciate any suggestions on ways to get some of our educator friends to read this. Thanks again.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
Address: 121 Will Scarlet Lane, Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043
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