The Centrality of values in the Leadership

Peter Reat Gatkuoth. Photo: File

By Peter Reat Gatkuoth


February 21, 2020 (SSNA) — Values are the core of leadership and guided conduct and execution. The beliefs we hold in our hearts influence the nature of the decisions we make as well as the trust we have in convincing the others to accept our judgments. Samuel Blumefeld has made it clear that “you must be dead to be value-neutral.” The faith of a leader is calculated not only by the essence of the ideals the leader embraces but also by how the leader works faithfully to live up to these values. Leadership and values are interwoven in the sense, and all leadership is fundamentally based on values that entail unity and pure thoughts, words, and actions. “The effective leaders usually dream great dreams” of social reform, economic advancement and improve the social welfares of the state (Morford, 1987).

In the context of Gandhi as a leader, this is an overview of some key contemporary approaches to value-based leadership. As is well known, no matter what the circumstances, Gandhi never compromised on the core principles of honesty and nonviolence (Morford, 1987). In an attempt to look at the value-based leadership, the paper examines values-based leadership as a foundational model that characterizes Gandhi’s leadership style, considering the primacy of these principles in Gandhi’s life and thought. Based on this concept, Gandhi’s experience and philosophy will be assessed and analyses as the key characteristics of exemplary leadership. Gandhi embodied to the highest degree the main characteristics of outstanding leadership. As such, there is much to learn and emulate from Gandhi’s approach to leadership.


In a world beset by increasing international conflicts, terrorism, financial instability, flagrant violations of human values, and rampant crises of character among leaders; it is hard to overemphasize the relevance of a values-based approach to governance. Through the power of role models, value-driven leaders have long known the importance of creating and maintaining trust. Study after studies shown that the leader’s persona plays a vital role in the effectiveness and reputation of leadership. From a strong personal and moral position, an authentic leader operates.

The centrality of Values: A Case Study of Mahatma Gandhi

We are living in a fascinating period of economic growth and religious decline. Never before have some exemplary leaders, leaders who are good and great, ever needed to show us a way out of this moral dullness and spiritual chaos. As Bennis and Nanus have observed, the need for leadership was never so great. A chronic crisis of governance, that is the pervasive incapacity of organizations/institutions to cope with the expectations of their constituents is now an overwhelming factor worldwide. We had seen war, political differences, natural disasters, and few leaders are unable to cope up with those demands and conditions.  In these conditions, everyone seeks the Holy Grail, the secret key, the silver bullet that is going to save the world. In the last few years, several new leadership strategies have gained momentum (Dukerich, 1985).

Values are a shorthand method of describing what is important to us individually or collectively (as an organisation, community or nation). These are “short” because the meanings expressed by values may typically be recorded in one word or in a short sentence. Each can be perceived as a value in terms of integrity, accountability, empathy, long-term opportunities and human rights and this includes context-dependent action that is the external representation of our beliefs. Values can be positive or potentially limiting. Positive values such as friendship, trust, and creativity, help us to connect with others and make a positive contribution to society (Warren, 1997).

Leadership values must be communicated in organizations/institutions that lead by actions, mainly in the manner that activities/actions are done every day, and not so much in direct or written words. In organizations that effectively functioning, actions speak louder, but written values and policy reinforce and support specific acts, and actions to improve and maintain written values make a powerful combination. “In the basic values underlying a leader’s behavior, actions matter above all else.” Leadership based on values usually developed at the time, and “to be effective leader, one must have reached at least the third phase of consciousness which involves striving to reshape the natural, social and cultural environment with conscience and independence.” Few leaders in the world fight to be the leader without a basic ingredient or characteristics and as such, evasive and disheartening lack in ethics leadership has hit the dawn of the 21st century. None of the public or private sectors were immune to immoral or unethical conduct, as many leaders were exposed (Heathfield, 2018).

In the case of Gandhi as a reference to the centrality of values, Gandhi constantly introduces into and through his life and death, the universal ideals of selflessness, integrity, compassion, non-violence, and honesty. Its effectiveness in leadership comes from its uncompromising conformity and openness to learn from its own mistakes. Mahatma Gandhi had a rock-solid value system that resulted in his ideas being started. He sought positive and productive changes in his own lives at every turn, and his relationship with his followers was completely interdependent.

Gandhi led India’s non-violent freedom struggle. This is fitting for the leaders motivated by interest and ethics. Controlling principles prevent lawsuits and reluctance. Some leaders do not hesitate to lose money and resources in order to maintain their trustworthiness. A person can lose money, but losing money does not mean a person lost reputations that he has earned in a lifetime. In this modern century, leaders are looking for reputations, legacy, integrity, and sustainability and not just fading successes of wealth or short-term reputations that in the shortest term will be forgotten. The leaders that are willing to impact or looking for permanent legacy are known to be the founders and father of certain institutions/countries. Such rulers/leaders are closely observing the law of the land and the rules of the game, but do not fear injustices of racism. Their actions and words speak the volume and are completely coordinated. These leaders are dedicated and guided by faith and confidence. Yes, trust is the cornerstone of value-based leadership.

Gandhi’s greatest quality was to walk his talk and actions in every way and at every level of society. As leaders, we must lead as far as possible by example, for if we push without learning from others, we can just hit the wall and punch back to the audiences without knowing.  Gandhi followed what he taught as he dressed himself like the poorest Indian and had the least personal possessions. Throughway of simplicity, few leaders usually exemplify their leadership by pursuing the needs of the community and the ideas they propagate. The popularity of Gandhi and his enduring legacy make him a figure to be followed and inspired throughout the Asian society and the world at large. He always advised people to lead authentically for the greater good. The importance of Gandhi is more so today as many leaders are educated, spoken and motivating the followers through “Gandhism.” In present times, to lead, managers/leaders should not only have the right skills but also a vision for themselves and for the other incoming generations.


We are bound to fail miserably if members keep their personal interests above their corporate interests. Companies such as Enron, Tyco, Lehman Brothers, WorldCom, and Global Crossing collapsed due to a lack of top-level value-based leadership. Leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Mother Theresa were respected and remembered for their values and contributions to the moral and just causes even after their deaths. Abraham Lincoln was also a leader based on values. He never compromised his moral position despite his many struggles and failures in his life. He dealt with racism and America’s unification. Managing Directors (businesses) such as Warren Buffet and Bill Gates reflects values-based leadership in which they make money by ethical means and in their philanthropically and charitable activities. They share their wealth to support the human race and human dignity.

Controlling values is the key to 21st-century survival. Leading a meaningful life makes life fun and fascinating. Materials/money can come and go as the situation may demand. However, legacy, Integrity, and reputation of personnel/leaders never go and it usually remains for the generations to talk about until the end of one’s life. Leaving a mark that is indelible usually becomes a pioneer in the quality of a leader’s life for years. One might not be a good heritage guy, but he could be a good ancestor or character. In conclusion it worth to say that “single-minded commitment to central values is the foundation upon which all things are built” and in Tiorio’s words, “every man wants to do right at the bottom of his heart, but only those who know right can do the right things” for the coming generation as few leaders demonstrated in their leadership. I wish our elders/leaders to think big and pursue the rights actions that are valued by the public more than their personal interests. It is not too late for someone to change this country to be the best in East Africa. If the president of Rwanda (Paul Kagame) can change the deadly face of Rwanda into a friendly environment and inclusive atmosphere, why not you the leaders/elders here in South Sudan?

The author of this commentary writing is a member of South Sudanese society and Human Rights Activist. He holds Bachelor of Art in Sociology, Master of Art in Human Rights and Master of Law in Oil and Gas. He is also a graduate student at the University of Juba, pursuing a Master of Public Policy. He can be reached at [email protected].


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