• Paul Barnett

Value-Focused Leadership

We first need to consider value in broad terms, not only monetary value. Then we can see what value means through the eyes of different stakeholder, including employees.

Defining value in broad terms is, of course, more complex than that adopted by traditional economics which tries to define everything in terms of price, and suggest we are simply motivated by selfish interests, which result in a competitive play for power that can only be resolved by trade-offs. The consequence, as Oscar Wilde said, is that we understand the “price of everything and the value of nothing”. And, as Robert Kennedy famously said, it means we account for all “except that which we value most”.

With a broader understanding of ‘value’ we can then design what I call a Value Scheme – as a tool that can be used to map the value sought by each stakeholder group. This then facilitates a new approach to leadership.

It means design thinking, more specifically integrative thinking (see the previous article), can be applied to create value in ways that integrate the interest of all stakeholders. I prefer to call them all investors, to make explicit the idea they all have a vested interest in the future of the firm and seek a return on that investment.

In this view of the way leaders should lead, competition is replaced by collaboration in the continuous endeavour of co-creating the value that benefits all those invested in the creation of customer value to ensure the long-term success of the business. This becomes a positive-sum, Win : Win : Win : Win approach.

The potential conflicts of interest are addressed head on in what Mary Parker Follett called Constructive Conflict – different interests being articulated, understood and addressed on the design of better solutions for all. Not by trade-offs based on the simpler idea of utility maximisation which is a much less nuanced approach often creating a big winner and big losers.

Valueism is based on the principle, “good ends can only be achieved by good means” as the philosopher Aldus Huxley said. The ‘ends’ do not justify the ‘means’ in many situations. Those good means do not only mean doing no harm. I suggest they mean searching for solutions that maximise the value created to as many stakeholder groups as possible. And this has been the means by which so much human progress has been made.

In a similar vein, the Financial Times Columnist John Kay in a recent article says, “The ability to engage in large-scale cooperative activity is what makes humans as a species unique. It is the secret of our success as a species. It is certainly the secret of the productivity of modern developed economies”. And he cites as evidence the scale of collaboration in the supply chain of Airbus.

Whilst Valueism, and the perspectives and approaches it advocates, may be more complex than that of the economists, they are the only way to prevent recurring conflict, achieve sustainable, widely shared prosperity and a Civil Economy. The Value Scheme approach helps simplify the complex process to some degree. But I believe the concept of dignity is simple way to guide all decisions towards better outcomes. It ensures we respect the “inherent worth” of a person or thing, and even of the natural world. It is central to the philosophy of Valueism and produces dignity dividends.