Values-Based Transformational Leadership

Values are fundamental motivators for people. When values guide decision-making, they shape what emerges in action, help align ‘talk and walk’, and foster a sense of integrity. Richard Barrett most recently defined values as ‘the energetic containers of our aspirations and intentions’. See for reflection and online discussion.

Transformation involves much more than ordinary change. When something or someone is transformed, there is no going back to the old ways – just as the ingredients in a cake can’t be reclaimed after the cake is baked. Something new is created. That can be scary, but when experienced as a collective adventure that makes a positive contribution, I think people can rise to the occasion.

Some models of leadership call for collaboration, teamwork, and shared values in achieving whatever has been declared important and purposeful. However, in too many cases, that call ultimately is marginalized and deemed ‘soft’ or irrelevant to achieving desired results. I disagree with that view.

It think that marginalizing values and discounting true collaboration, when striving for improvement or progress, only alienate people who long to make a difference, share their gifts and skills, and participate in something meaningful. They feel helpless, disempowered, discouraged, and discounted. That situation needs to be transformed and called into service for the greater good.

We have values in several areas of our lives: personal values that guide and influence our individual lives; values that guide and influence how we relate interpersonally with others; and collective values that emerge in families, organizations, institutions, and societies. Ideally, we participate in choosing collective values. Otherwise, we must determine whether those collective values align with our own.

Many leadership roles I held in high school, university, business, and community organizations were based on collaboration and values, and they did make a difference. While at the Union Pacific, I was involved in leadership aimed at cultural and organizational effectiveness, and values were part of that. When I received my Masters in Human Relations, organizational transformation was a core component.

Several difficult decisions I’ve made over the years have centered on whether certain situations had begun to compromise my values and sense of integrity. It’s very challenging to discern when to ‘hang in there’ with perseverance and when to say ‘no’ to something that threatens one’s sense of integrity.

CTT Consultant BVC LogoIn 2006 I became a Certified Facilitator/Consultant of the Cultural Transformation Tools (CTT) created by the Barrett Values Centre. We used a CTT values assessment with chaplains at the University of Edinburgh, and that led to deepened experiences of friendship, community, and great accomplishment as a multifaith chaplaincy. In 2013, a number of CTT facilitators/consultants and others formed the UK Values Alliance.

Around 2012, I helped start a Globally Just Leadership Community as part of the Global Justice Academy at the University of Edinburgh. We promoted core values and hoped to bring together people already involved in globally just leadership. At the same time, I also joined the University’s What’s A University For? initiative. Along with others in the University, we’ve looked closely at overall University values and at the values that inspire and/or motivate us personally, within the University, and in Society.

In early February 2018, Robert Reich from the University of Berkeley in California interviewed George Lakoff, another academic, about the importance of language and politics, as language relates to the current political polarization in the USA. Lakoff clearly stated how important it is for all of us to look at our own values and worldviews AND to engage others in discovering underlying values and worldviews important to them.

He encouraged us to activate care and empathy in our brains by carefully choosing our frames of reference, when talking with others and listening to what they value. Perhaps meeting respectfully and with openness on the common ground of values and (possibly) worldviews  might enable and encourage more meaningful connections, respectful interactions, and productive outcomes. Our world certainly needs that.

If you’d like to explore your own top ten values, please consider taking the free Personal Values Assessment available on the Barrett Values Center website Personal Values Assessment at BVC ( Not only will you receive a report addressing your values, but also, you’ll be given some tools to help you work with your values. If family members or friends take the assessment, too, you can share results with each other.

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