Values based leadership

As part of the CILIP Leadership Programme, all of the participants were tasked with watching a 3 minute video about a particular aspect of leadership, then to feed back to the group about the video and our reflections on it. The video I selected was on Values Based Leadership.

I have always been cynical about leadership and management theory, because a lot of it seemed to be theorising the obvious then getting a book deal out of it. However, the experience of being on this programme has taught me that there is a lot of valuable information. An additional benefit is that the people designing the programme have read a lot of leadership theory, sorting the wheat from the chaff when selecting course materials, so I have found that what we’ve learned about so far has been useful.

Here is my summary of the video on Barrett’s theory of Values based leadership and a reflection on how I will use what I learned in my practice.

Video summary

Values based leadership – developed by Richard Barrett – is based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The theory is that people have needs and even when satisfying their higher level needs, they can have anxieties about their low needs being met – even when they superficially appear to be met.

Barrett’s seven stages of consciousness are mapped against Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

Maslow Barrett Definition
Self-actualisation Service Living a life of service, at ease with uncertainty, wisdom, humility and compassion
Making a difference What difference and positive impact you can make on the world
Internal cohesion Finding a meaning in existence, reconciling our basic physical needs with our higher emotional ones
Know and understanding Transformation Finding out who we are and what meaning we attach to our lives, this is crucial for being a leader
Self-esteem Self-esteem A sense of personal worth
Love and belonging Relationships Feeling safe, respected and loved
Safety Survival Satisfying our physical needs – such as warmth and adequate food.

Barrett’s theory states that at every stage of consciousness we make conscious and unconscious decisions to satisfy these needs. It is also characterised as a journey through self knowledge and self realisation to enable you to have a self identity based on who and what you care about, which colour all of your interactions – both personal and professional.

Transformation is the crucial step for becoming a leader because it is the stage at which we reflect on why we believe what we do and – not necessarily reject previously held beliefs – but take ownership of them, rather than them perhaps being inherited from our upbringing and environment. This step enables us to become authentic leaders.

My reflection

Although I did A-Level Psychology, I had forgotten much of the detail of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and I was interested to be reminded about how low down on the hierarchy of needs relationships come. That our need for respect and safe relationships is only one step up from our need to feel a most basic level of physical safety.

When discussing ‘making a difference’ the video stated that this is largely dependent on your ability to collaborate with others with a similar world view. I found this interesting because this isn’t about agreeing with your colleagues about politics, religion or anything else, but about having a common vision that you are working towards. You can disagree on everything else, but if you share the vision for your organisation, then you can succeed together towards that vision. We all know that we need to engage our stakeholders and communicate our vision, but I hadn’t thought about it in these terms of finding that common ground for success.

I can now see why you have to go through the ‘making a difference’ level ‘service’ level. Until you are clear on your own view of what you want to contribute to the world then you cannot cope with uncertainty, because coping with uncertainty (especially in the short-term) requires you to have longer-term assurance of where you are going. Again, this may sound like an impossible thing to achieve, but I can see using Barrett’s principles in discrete areas of my life – for example ensuring I’m meeting these needs in a project team. Therefore you don’t have to think of it as having absolute, unflappable certainty about your role in the world, but just the chunk of the world you are currently thinking about, which makes it far more achievable.

These points have led to me to reflect on what I will change about my own practice in order to help to meet these needs in the people I am leading.

What I will change about my practice

Relationships – I will ensure that anyone I am leading feels safe and respected in the team. Safe not just in a basic physical sense but also in terms of security, for example by clearly laying out roles and responsibilities, praising them for good work so they know their position is secure.

Vision – in order to align the needs and views of individuals, I will ensure that the vision we are working towards is clear to everyone and is regularly restated. For example by reiterating the final deliverables of a project at each project meeting to ensure that we remain focused on achieving those.

Personal – I consider myself to have a good level of insight, so the majority of my learning and reflection from this exercise is in how I will lead others. However, it has led me to reflect on how I am led. I have to deal with a lot of uncertainty in my work, for example projects led by other teams or clients who do not clearly articulate their vision, therefore my work has to change to meet that changing vision. This video has made me understand why – although I do not mind some uncertainty – I do not like such fundamental uncertainty because it undermines my understanding of my sense of purpose within a project. Such uncertainty causes me anxiety in ‘relationships’ because I worry about not meeting people’s expectations because I am not clear on them. It also inhibits my sense of ‘making a difference’ (which is personally very important for me) because if I do not understand the purpose of the project then I do not see how it – or in turn I – make a difference. Understanding this anxiety makes me more confident to ask colleagues and clients for this certainty, because it reassures me that it is not just me being a worry wort but that it is an important need to enable me fulfil myself.

Additional resources:

Slideshare presentation by Richard Barrett –


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