It is a critical time in the history of our world. Our leaders are continuously bombarded with competing situational pressures, so they need to reflect wisely on their personal and corporate choices – choices that have wide-ranging consequences and effects, intended and unintended.

Arrogance, narcissism and unwillingness to change have been identified in academic research as reasons why leaders make bad decisions. How can we help leaders overcome employee unease, apathy, community hostility and cynicism from stakeholders?

1. KNOW THYSELF The first element of values-based leadership is about being willing to engage in self-awareness and moral self-confrontation. Unless practised, our personal strengths and ethical orientations atrophy and we will not always be able to live up to our moral obligations as leaders. Situations where abrupt value-misalignments occur are common in organisational life today, and they can elicit weak responses from individual leaders. So it is necessary that leaders regularly engage in personal introspection of their routines. Leaders must continuously and purposefully re-learn new, constructive orientations. Academics call this realignment and prioritising.

2. MAKE THE PROFESSIONAL PERSONAL, AND VICE VERSA The second element is a re-orientation towards values and trust – more specifically, a consistent alignment between the espoused personal and organisational values and the lived and enacted values that ensue. In a word: integrity.

3. VALUE DIVERSITY AND COMPASSION Third is a compassionate reconciliation of the diverse perspectives on values and ethics from the various backgrounds and populations that exist in South Africa, local and foreign. Leaders need to encourage all employees and stakeholders to find each other through deep dialogue, conducted with sensitivity, genuine care, interest, as well as forgiveness – of oneself and others. In academic terms: social values and cultural schema.


4. BE BRAVE The next element of values-based leadership is having the courage to act on principles and values when finding yourself in situations and structures that work against those values. This speaks to strength of will and personal resilience.

5. LISTEN Provide employees with conversational skills through training, and then create an inclusive culture and the creation of “safe forums” without fear of impact to their careers and promotional opportunities.

6. CREATE A CARING CULTURE Visibly encourage a culture of values-based action by investing time and resources, so it can be seen and felt by internal and external stakeholders.This includes showing up at events, talking and storytelling, acknowledging staff who live this, and demonstrating the desired culture. Other resources include: funding talks and events, using appropriate symbolism, encouraging values-based behaviour through incentivised programmes and insisting on its inclusion in performance reviews.


He is currently the Allan Gray Chair, an Endowed Professorship specialising in leadership, diversity and inclusion in the Allan Gray Centre for Values-Based Leadership at UCT’s Graduate School of Business. He is also a Faculty Member of Duke Corporate Education at Duke University, USA. Outside of academia, among other positions, Kurt is the Founder and Managing Partner of LICM Consulting (South Africa).