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How Advisors Can Become Values-based Leaders

Adopt the four principles of values-based leadership to lead others more effectively and build a purpose-driven practice.

4 min read

Best-selling author Harry Kraemer, Jr. is a clinical professor of management and organizations at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, where he teaches in the MBA and Executive MBA programs. Additionally, he is an executive partner with private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, where he consults with CEOs and other senior executives of companies in the firm’s extensive portfolio. Mr. Kraemer is the former chairman and CEO of Baxter International Inc., a multi-billion-dollar global healthcare company.

Each year, our SPDR® MasterClass program draws on the expertise of specialists like Mr. Kraemer to help advisors grow their businesses, keep pace with change, and better satisfy clients’ evolving needs.

Leaders are often challenged to "do the right thing" while also delivering excellent, enduring results — and values-based leaders are needed more than ever in today's world. During a recent MasterClass, Harry Kraemer, Jr. shared the four principles of values-based leadership and showed advisors how the framework can be a powerful solution to address the need for leadership that inspires, informs, and invites win-win collaboration.

What Is a Values-based Leader?

Leaders influence others. Values-based leaders take it to the next level, using their words, actions, and examples to inspire and motivate others to pursue what matters most. For the values-based leader, what matters most is the greater good — the positive change that can be implemented in any organization or activity. Values-based leaders take the time to discover and reflect on what is most important to them, and use their values as the basis of their decisions and actions.

4 Principles of Values-based Leadership

Becoming a better leader isn't about emulating a role model or a historical figure. Rather, your leadership must be rooted in who you are and what matters most to you. In Mr. Kraemer’s view, it comes down to doing the right thing and doing the best you can. That may sound simple, but it's hardly simplistic — it’s a lifelong challenge for all of us. Fortunately, there are guiding principles that can help.

  1. Self-reflection – The ability to reflect on and identify what you stand for and what your values are. To be a values-based leader, you must be willing to look within yourself through regular self-reflection and strive for greater self-awareness. After all, if you aren’t self-reflective, how can you truly know yourself? If you don’t know yourself, how can you lead yourself? If you can’t lead yourself, how can you lead others?

    Put this principle into action by developing your own daily questions, such as: What are my values? What is my purpose? What kind of leader do I want to be? Am I confusing activity and productivity? How will I operate differently tomorrow based on what I learned today
  2. Balanced perspective – The ability to see situations from multiple perspectives, including differing viewpoints, to gain a holistic understanding. Balance means you consider all sides and opinions with an open mind. Don't rely on what you think or what you know; purposefully seek a broader perspective by engaging others.
  3. True self-confidence – More than mastery of certain skills, true self-confidence enables you to accept yourself as you are, recognize your strengths and weaknesses, and focus on continuous improvement. With true self-confidence, you know there will always be people who are more gifted, accomplished, and successful than you, but you're OK with who you are. To gauge your degree of true self-confidence, ask if you’re comfortable saying, “I don’t know,” and, “I was wrong.”
  4. Genuine humility – The ability to never forget who you are, to appreciate the value of every person, and to treat everyone respectfully. Genuine humility keeps life in perspective, particularly as you experience success in your career; genuine humility yanks you back to where you came from. It’s a powerful principle that elevates your leadership and builds teams, taking the focus off “me” and putting it on “we” as credit is shared instead of hoarding it for oneself. Genuine humility enhances your ability to relate to others.

Advisors who embrace these principles will be able to lead and influence others, regardless of their level in the organization. The four principles also help align advisory teams with their own values and the values of their organization. Additionally, values-based leadership principles help ensure the organization’s purpose is reflected in its strategy, how it communicates, how it treats people, how it develops talent, and beyond.

3 Essential Traits of Great Leaders

Regardless of level or job title, advisors can make a difference in their organization and with their clients by embodying the essential traits of great leaders.

Great leaders:

  • Keep things simple. They can navigate from the roots to the trees and see the whole forest.
  • Use common sense. They communicate clearly, cutting through the noise to see opportunities, problems, and information.
  • Start leading ASAP. They find a (respectful) way to start right away, drawing on their ability to relate and influence.

Throughout the leadership journey, values should be the bedrock at every juncture — particularly when an organization faces change, controversy, or crisis. When advisors diligently pursue values-based leadership, making the right decision becomes easier, even in the most difficult circumstances.

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