A Model of Leadership

By David Smith

Published in; The Spinal Column, Issue 42. Nelson Marlborough Health Services.
Nelson, New Zealand. November, 1996.

What makes a good leader? Now that's quite a question in the current political environment! It's also a pertinent question in any organisation.

We recently had the opportunity to hear from Dr Kelly Gerling, an American researcher who has spent many years studying what makes a good leader. Dr Gerling spent some time sharing his findings with a group of NMHS senior managers and clinicians.

Dr Gerling has developed a model of the leadership process which he calls the Values-Based® Leadership model, at the heart of which are our personal values and beliefs. The model argues that if something happens that fulfills our personal values, this will help us access and demonstrate our leadership capabilities (Dr Gerling refers to this as the LEADERSHIP CYCLE). If something happens that violates our personal values and beliefs, we often adopt a set of behaviors which serve to "protect" us, but which can be counter-productive (the VICTIM CYCLE).

Typical "victim cycle" behaviours include Blaming others, Avoiding the issue, Whining and moaning to others, Labelling other people and Sarcasm about the situation or person. All of these patterns shift any responsibility to the other person and, while they may help us feel better, they generally are not helpful in seeking a resolution, or better communication.

Does all this sound a bit familiar?!?! Of course it is, it's a very natural defensive reaction when we have been hurt, and it does hurt when our values are violated. The problem is we can get trapped in the victim mode, as we play the victim role we become unable to see what we could think or do differently. We lose faith in our ability and are unable to access our leadership capabilities and our performance and morale stays low.

The leadership cycle brings out our "inner leadership capabilities" which Dr Gerling lists as Empathy - the ability to see things through the eyes of the other person and to feel their feelings, Objectivity - the capability to become neutral and see the situation from an outside perspective, Seeing the Good in Others - looking beyond problematic behaviour and seeing positive intentions and good qualities within a person, Vision - long-term vision being the ability to look into the future and foresee best and worst-case outcomes and wide-angle vision being the ability to understand the impact of our actions on those around us, Integrity - the capability to function consistently with one's own values and beliefs and to know what you want for yourself, and Logical Thinking - being the ability to analyse a problem through a range of different "perceptual lenses".

The leadership cycle brings out our "outer leadership capabilities" which are skills and processes for interaction. These include Appreciating skills - to encourage actions that fulfill your values, Requesting skills - to seek action when you have a problem with someone else's behaviour, Negotiating process - for resolving conflict, Counselling skills - to work with someone to resolve a problem, Apologising skills - to seek forgiveness, Coaching and Mentoring skills - to foster the development of others, and Organisational Learning skills - to help the whole group learn.

These leadership skills and processes are not some new-fangled American magic, but it can be hard to access these skills when we have had values violated. Dr Gerling's model can help us identify when we are in the victim cycle and why, and can help us choose to respond with leadership.

Dr Gerling made it clear that you don't have to be the boss to be the leader. We all possess leadership capabilities and can develop and master the leadership skills and processes. And we can choose whether to be victims or leaders.

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