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Core Values of Authentic Leaders

By February 21, 2024No Comments

Chapter 3 in Why It Matters: Reflections on Practical Leadership is titled, “Leadership Values and Attributes.” My two previous blog posts addressed attributes of exemplary leaders—I wrote the first one and ChatGPT 3.5 produced the second one. I don’t distinguish between values and attributes in the chapter. A simplistic way to distinguish between them is to think of values as inward or internal things and attributes as outward or external things. This is an oversimplification because courage, honesty, and integrity will be in both lists and it’s hard to know with certainty if someone truly possesses them. If something is truly a core value, then it should shape your behavior and guide your actions regardless of the situation or circumstance.

When you use a browser to perform a web search on core values there’ll be more than a billion responses. Lists will range from “3 main core values” to more than 200 core values. There’ll be lists of personal core values, as well as lists of core values for organizations.

This week I’ll focus on core values of authentic leaders. In doing so, I draw on the work of three University of Arkansas (UofA) colleagues: Andrew Braham, John English, and Matt Waller. Together, we created LeadershipWWEB Podcast Series. The link to the podcasts of interviews with twenty-two individuals is

Prior to the interviews, we asked leaders to identify their top five values. If you were asked to participate, what would be yours?

We didn’t provide guidance on whether the list should include personal, professional, or leadership values. Fifty-two different values were cited. Not surprisingly, integrity was the most frequently cited value. Also in the top five were authenticity, service, vision, and developing people.

While I was engaged in writing Why It Matters, Braham, English, and Waller analyzed the results from the interviews and wrote, Values-Driven Authentic Leadership: Essential Lessons from the LeadershipWWEB Podcast Series,” EPIC Books, The University of Arkansas Press, ISBN: 978-1954892064, March, 2022. As I stated in the Foreword to their book, “In so doing, they identified six opportunities when reliance on one’s core values is critical: having a mentor; being in a group; leading yourself; transitions; being a mentor; and values and company culture.”

In their interviews, several leaders distinguished between personal core values and corporate core values. They also emphasized the need for them to be aligned. When they weren’t, they found employment elsewhere, in companies with core values aligned with their personal core values.

The authors emphasize the need to be true to yourself and your core values if you aspire to be an authentic leader. They also point out that you must be transparent and balanced. Also, you must have a compelling vision for the organization you lead. Finally, they conclude that you must know the strengths and weaknesses of the people you lead, as well as yourself. Their model for authentic leadership is servant leadership.

Several podcasts in LeadershipWWEB Podcast Series are from leaders who met with my leadership class. The following are quoted in Why It Matters: Greg Brown (Chairman and CEO, Motorola Solutions), Mike Duke (former President and CEO, Walmart), Mike Johnson (retired RADM), Pam McGinnis (former EVP and President, Global Marketing, Philipps 66), Kim LaScola Needy (Dean of Engineering, UofA), John Roberts (CEO, J. B. Hunt Transport Services), Shelley Simpson (President, J. B. Hunt Transport Services), and Donnie Smith (former President and CEO, Tyson Foods). In addition, LeadershipWWEB Podcast Series includes Sam Alley (Chairman, VCC Construction), Troy Alley (EVP and COO, Con-Real), Kelly Barnes (retired Partner, PricewaterhouseCoopers), Scott Bennett (Director, Arkansas Department of Transportation), Angela Grayson (founder Precipice IP), Jessica Hendrix (President and CEO, Saatchi & Saatchi X), J. R. Jones (former President and CEO, Rheem Manufacturing Company), Chris McCoy (CFO, UofA), Mario Ramirez (President, MRamirez Group), John Reap (former President and CEO, Town North Bank), Charles Robinson (Chancellor, UofA), Stu Todd (founder Compass Partnership Marketing), and Tony Vinciquerra (Chairman and CEO, Sony Pictures Entertainment).

As you listen to the podcasts and hear what the leaders say their core values are, identify yours. Be brutally honest. Distinguish between values and core values. The latter establish the foundation for who you are—what you stand for. As Steve Sample, in The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership, put it, core values define the hill on which you are willing to die. As such, I wouldn’t expect there to be very many, certainly not more than 200.

Next: Conclusions Based on Observations of Exemplary Leaders