The word “Leadership” is a fantastic and influential term that denotes grand ideas of control, knowledge, experience, and other specific individual qualities. It began as a label reserved for the fewest and most deserving individuals, but over time it turned into a buzz word tossed around in meetings, applied to training program titles, given freely to working positions, and endorsed with a mouse click on LinkedIn. Everyone has their own working definition of what leadership means, though most have insufficient exposure to the formalized constructs of basic common core values of leadership or the supporting value of responsibility. In this column I will introduce the historical background of leadership and lightly delve into some of the core defining concepts of leadership, including how responsibility is necessary but not sufficient to leadership.
The concept of leadership has been signified since the beginning of written history in pictographic and written language form; such as Greek “ηγεσία”, traditional Chinese “領導”, and Persian “رهبری” as examples. As of now, the English word of leadership is globally recognized and has been incorporated into various cultures and languages, such as in Japanese “リーダーシップ”. The English term of leadership can be broken down into two parts: leader and the suffix of -ship. The word “Leader” comes from the fourteenth century Middle English word of leder; defined as someone who has the character to manage, run, head, direct, lead, guide, inspire or conduct other individuals or activities. Adding the additional suffix of -ship, which means to shape, adjust, modify, change, or adapt, the word “Leadership” is endorsed and granted to someone who possesses leadership qualities and is able to shape the character of those around them.
As of today, the label of being a leader and the position of manager have been integrated and in some cases the terms have become synonymous with one another. While being a leader is defined as someone who can manage, being in a management position does not mean that the individual is in fact a leader. There is an assumption that individuals in management positions are leaders because they were awarded a position or title. It is also assumed that these management position leaders must have leadership experience, skills, and abilities, especially if they work hard or long hours. But when conducting actions requiring leadership, most managers lack a basic understanding and commonality of core values which intricately support the development of leadership qualities personally or within other individual’s character. Dependent upon the environment and circumstances, the actions of leadership requires various additional values and varying levels of strengths and ethics. However, the core of all leadership must be built upon a common set of core leadership values. Hence, to truly be considered a leader you must poses leadership values and practice leadership skills while separating yourself from being construed as a manager.
The most widely disseminated collection of core values of leadership within an organization comes from the United States Department of Defense. Since the year 1776, every member of the United States Military has received training in the basic core values of leadership; over 48 Million individuals have served (currently 24.6 Million are still living) in all of the United States Military branches – Army, Air Force, Marines, Navy, and Coast Guard (information was collected from the Department of Defense and 2013 United States Census Bureau Report). Using the United States Department of Defense – United States Army branch as an example, they utilize an acronym of LDRSHIP to represent their “Army Values”, previously known as the Army Core Values. LDRSHIP stands for: Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity, and Personal Courage. Each of these core values are the basic building blocks of every United States Army Solider; Enlisted, Officer, or Civilian Employee. It is their common set of core values that entrench the basic qualities of leadership and the strength in which their character is molded. Based on the United States Army requirements for individual leadership abilities, these values will suffice, but I encourage you to realize that these core values are not adequate enough for business and the core values of LDRSHIP are in fact lacking facets of leadership.
The United States Military’s practical training of leadership was developed for mission critical (sometimes life and death) situations and is practiced in all aspects of daily operations. Many Veterans, such as myself, applied the training we received in the Unites States Military into our civilian professions. As a fourteen year Veteran of the United States Army and Air Force, I have personally reflected for over twenty-three years (during and after my military term of service) on the United States Army and other United States Military branches’ belief and leadership training systems. I recognized that each of their core values, principles, and practices of leadership could be better defined, expressed, and applied in general, but especially in business. Focusing on explaining the core values of great leadership for a business environment, I sought to recognize these inadequacies and to expand upon the United States Army Leadership Core Values. Researching the voids of these designated core values, I was able to realize what was missing and the values needed to fill the void for a business environment; Excellence, Assertive, and Endurance.
LEADERSHIP Core Values
Loyalty – Unwavering devotion to a cause or institution
Excellence – Commitment to the highest quality in action and output
Assertive – Confidence through decision and action
Duty – Fulfilling your moral and professional obligations
Endurance – Ability to tolerate long periods of hardship to achieve success
Respect – Treat others appropriately with dignity and sensitivity
Selfless Service – Place the welfare of your industry, your organization, and your subordinates before your own
Honor – The moral compass for character and personal conduct
Integrity – Possessing the highest standards of morality, following clear principles, and being committed to truth
Personal Courage – Physical acts of bravery and the moral strength to stand firm for beliefs and convictions
What is not represented in the core values acronym LEADERSHIP, but of no less importance, is the additional value of responsibility.
The origins of the word responsibility comes from the late sixteenth century based on the word responsible, developed by the Anglo-French and English language’s use of the word respond, which was derived from the Latin word respons; used in reply to the word respondere. Although time and languages have changed the spelling and pronunciation, the original sense of the meaning has been maintained. In reference to leadership, responsibility can be defined as being accountable, trustworthy, reliable, and to have a constant moral obligation. It is the vital underpinning and encompassing value for each of the core values of leadership.
In the above, I put forth the view that all too often we mistakenly assume that managers are in fact leaders with an aptitude in leadership because of their organizational position. This is derived from a perception of a position’s responsibilities which include overseeing others’ productivity. But in such cases, we cannot assume that such responsibilities alone are sufficient to develop organizational leadership competencies, nor are our HR systems necessarily honed-in on selecting and promoting those that display strong leadership qualities. As an example, an individual may poses a well-developed personal value of responsibility and they are able to fulfill their private obligations. But it is with a leadership responsibility value that the same individual takes a role of accountability and action within their organization, for their subordinate’s activities, and not just privately for themselves.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a 20th Century German theologian known for his poetry, fiction, and public speaking once said, “Action springs not from thought, but from a readiness for responsibility.” What he is referring to is an individual’s willingness to study, prepare, and continually practice responsibility. A leader must understand that their core value of responsibility is externally gauged and attributed reliant upon the outcomes, impacts, and consequences of their actions. In essence, their actions will be judged by their superiors, peers, and subordinates and constantly qualified within their total leadership capacity.
An individual’s ability to generate trust, to be accountable, to uphold a moral obligation, and to put their organization and subordinates at a higher priority than themselves comprise the first step of the transition from personal responsibility to leadership responsibility. It will be only through their commitment to continued action, their readiness to endure additional pressures, and their willingness to exert added effort on behalf of their subordinates that they truly begin to experience a sense of responsible leadership value.
Not all managers are leaders and not all individuals labeled as a leader have adequate core value qualifications of leadership. Individuals who wish or are thrust into a leadership role need to understand each of the leadership core values separately and working together cohesively. These core values of leadership, incorporated with the value of responsibility, needs to be continuously developed and nurtured, realized and shared, and above all, unremittingly practiced through accountable action.