The Authentic Leader

By Chris Chittenden

A vital aspect of an organisation's culture is its values. Values within an organisation can be seen in two ways - the "espoused values" and the "values in use". The "espoused values" are those which are spoken about as the values of the organisation. They are often the slogans put up on the wall and those defined in value statements. On the other hand, the "values in use" are those which underpin the actions seen to be taken within the organisation. They are the values that can be deduced from what we observe. More often than not, there is a gap between the "espoused values" and the "values in use". It is this gap that creates many of the problems in organisational life.

Management theorists have long recognised the importance of the gap between "espoused values" and "values in use" on organisational effectiveness. They have also identified the critical importance of the organisation's leader in increasing or decreasing this gap.

So what has this got to do with being authentic as a leader? In the context of human activity, authenticity relates to being seen as acting in a way that is consistent with how you say you and others should act. If there is a disconnect, then there is a significant impact on how much someone can be trusted. Given that trust is critical in effective leadership, losing that trust can have dire consequences for someone who wants to lead others.

The leader of an organisation has his or her own personal values that underpin their actions. It is common for a leader to work with her or his leadership team to develop a document that speaks to what they want the organisational and leadership values to be. So what happens when these "espoused values" do not align with the leader's "values in use"?

There appears to be two distinct possibilities here. Firstly, the leader can continue to act as he or she has always done. Under these circumstances, it is plausible to assume people within the organisation will imply that it is acceptable to say one thing and do another. This has far-reaching implications for the effectiveness of the organisation and also on the leader's ability to lead.

Secondly, the leader could seek to change their values in use to match those that are being espoused. This is certainly possible, but could not be expected to happen immediately. After all, the leader has spent their whole life developing their way of being and the values on which that is based.

In our coaching work, we often come across leaders whose espoused values and values in use appear to differ. There are a number of things we do to help people in this situation:

  • Assist them in identifying what values they believe they live by;
  • Look at the likely actions and ways of relating to others that come from those values;
  • Become clear about what values they aspire to hold and what they might be doing if they achieve this;
  • Work with them to be committed to make any shifts they may require; and
  • Develop some strategies to help with the embodiment of those changes.

If you lead others, we invite you to consider where you are at with your "espoused values" and your "values in use". It might help you understand some of your leadership challenges in a new light.

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© 2004 Chris Chittenden