Putting Values First

There are many definitions of leadership. Some highlight the importance of highly-developed professional skills and knowledge; others dwell on the importance of personal skills. A number of researchers state that leadership begins with the character of leaders, their emotional intelligence, self-awareness and personal values and beliefs. As Will Ryan (2003) pointed out: “If You Scratch a Good Head…You Find a Moral Purpose.”

It is impossible to be a leader without values. Homer H. Johnson (2012) makes the following important point in his book: ‘‘Values and Leadership come from inside the individual. Thus, if you want to make an impact, it is critical to understand who you are and what you believe.’’  It is important to be authentic, to be you, to lead in alignment with your core values and beliefs.

It is my belief that coaching can be a useful tool in the personal development toolbox of education leaders. It has been often associated with sport and confused with mentoring in the educational context.  Coaching is not about giving advice; it is about empowering a person to dig deeper and reconnect with his/her values. It requires reflection, evaluation, questioning, analysing, comparing, etc., encouraging the coachee to use and develop higher-order thinking skills. According to Tomlinson (2004): “Executive coaching is helping professional people reflect upon their work in a frank and rigorous way to establish new patterns of behaviour as a consequence.” New patterns of behaviour that are in alignment with their core values.

Coaching provides relevant personalised development—development unique to each person and situation.  The ‘coachee’ is empowered to take control and ownership of his/her personal development. The role of the coach is to aid this development—to be there on the journey of developing self-awareness, awareness of a ‘coachee’s’ core values and responsibility to act in alignment with them.

The word ‘‘values’’ has recently become a buzz-word; the biggest danger is that it then becomes an empty, meaningless word, a tick-box exercise to ensure we comply with the latest trends. Effective coaching offers a valuable support structure by providing a judgement-free thinking space and enabling leaders to critically evaluate their practice and behaviour.  Do we act in alignment with our values?  As leaders, do we compromise our values? Are we trying to live and act in accordance with other people’s beliefs? Have we developed a self-awareness glitch? Has our well-being been compromised as a result of this miss-match between our values and our actions? Are we aiming to achieve success or content?  This quote struck a chord with me:  “When we limit ourselves by being the person we “should” be, we limit our aliveness. We may achieve success but not fulfilment because we are not living out all the important truths about ourselves, truths we need to slow down to excavate.”`

How can we be effective without knowing who we are as leaders? How can we achieve fulfilment if we don’t act in alignment with our values? How can we teach our pupils about values if we don’t have awareness of our own values?



Johnson, H. H. (2012) Becoming a Values-Based Leader. IAP.

Inam, H. (2015) Wired for Authenticity: Seven Practices to Inspire, Adapt, & Lead.  iUniverse.

Ryan, W.  (2008) Leadership with a Moral Purpose: Turning your school inside out. Crown House Publishing.

Tomlinson, H. (2004) Educational Leadership: Personal Growth for Professional Development.  SAGE.

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