Archive for the ‘Values’ Category

Some papers deserve just more attention, because their simple  clarity and their will to create something helpful is just overpowering.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris (2009) have set out to see what people find meaningful. They clearly set out to distinguish between meaningful work in management literature, which looks at meaning creation as a tool to motivate people in a sense of vision and mission,  and the meaningful work humanities which looks at meaning in a more broader holistic sense.

First of all: All people strive to make sense of what they experience. it is part of the human condition  to create meaning. I am surprised how little this is discussed in the workplace. In what sense is our work meaningful?

Lips-Wierma and Morris present several themes of the humanities, such as authentic living, which underpins the wish of a life full of personal discovery and free choice as opposed to prescription and domination. Moral living deals with the question on “how are we to live?” and enacting virtues. Work becomes meaningful if it supports this wish for moral development. Dignified living deals with the inner wish to have just and diginifed work, the ability to resist and oppose. Finally Lips-Wierma and Morris mention living that serves an ultimate concern, a concern which transcends not only self, but also the organization to a “more universally beneficial legacy”.

These four cornerstones would be enough for every workplace to discuss and explore:

  • Do we offer possibilities for being authentic at the workplace?
  • Does our company enable our people to live up to higher moral standards?
  • Do we ensure the dignity of employees and how?
  • How do we serve an ultimate concern?

But Lips-Wiersma and Morris go a step further an uncover various elements of meaningful work and their relationship to each other.  They claim that there are four sources of meaningful work and life:

  • Developing and becoming self: The ability to enjoy moral development, personal growth and staying true to one self.  I can maintain and develop  the identity of my choosing.
  • Unity with others:  Belonging to a community, sharing values and working together
  • Serving others: To make a difference and to meet the needs of humanity. I can see that my work is relevant to something bigger.
  • Expressing full potential: Creating and achieving and influencing my surroundings.  I have impact with what I do.

Lips-Wiersma and Morris suggest the following framework to make “the various components of meaningful work visible”:

I would find it very interesting if any reader out there will one day work with this framework and perhaps can notify my what the results were.

In the classic view of leadership, it is the leader who shapes culture and provides meaning, through creation of a corporate identity.

This of course is a one-sided view as Lips-Wiersma and Morris put it  ” it is a condition of the being human to create meaning”

Coherence and wholeness are of prime importance as each individual creates meaning for him and herself subjectively by relating external events to an inner stock of values and experiences. Meaning thus is something very personal, it cannot be provided, but only be made. In this sense Lips-Wiersma and Morris follow up with  recommendations:

  1. Meaning should emerge from the collective.
  2. Tensions between vision and reality should be addressed openly because Because discrepancies  disrupt the individuals wish to find meaning in work.
  3. Make commonality on our human aspirations, while respecting the differences.
  4. Moral issues are just as important and should be engaged in just as actively as in the management of values.


Lips-Wiersma, M. & Morris, L. 2009, Discriminating Between ‘Meaningful Work’ and the ‘Management of Meaning’,  Journal of Business Ethics 88:491–511

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In an interview with a retired public manager of a Berlin tax revenue office, we went through the topic of leadership in several sessions. First of all it was a great interview; I got insight into how the state finances itself.  Also it was quite interesting to see the results and how much they mirrored the findings of the private sector.  This is what I noted down in my analysis of the discussion:

1)      Several concepts known from literature have remerged, such as:

  • Value leadership as the driving concept, here specifically the value of justice. A driving value used to
    • Resolve conflicts
    • Make decisions – even to the extent to which the decision might go against assumed organizational interests and generally accepted behavioral norms.
    • Influence employees
    • Create culture
  • The concepts of culture and sub-culture and these being dependant on the leaders values and behavior
  • The concept of coaching as a main source for personnel development
  • The concept of employees as stars, cash cows and poor dogs, but presented here in the concept of a “Gauss distribution curve”, with the top 5 to 10% of employees as high performers, the middle 80 to 90% as medium performers, and the bottom 5 to 10 % as low performers.  This included different strategies on how to address these different employee groups.
  • External collaboration, political management: According to the subject, very little contact to the political level existed, however: “It is necessary to have ‘Bundesgenossen’ (strong allies) to influence the political level.” … and in this specific case to improve cooperation between agencies.
  • Internal collaborative leadership

2)      New concepts emerged, which have not yet been observed in existing literature:

  • An office can have “goodwill”. According to the subject, leaders need to build the “goodwill” of an organization to incur trust in oversight bodies to allow the leader more flexibility in solving problems, while at the same time not overstepping any legal boundaries. The concept of “goodwill”, known in the private sector, and here referred to a virtual value of the organization,  reminds the researcher very much of the concept of “social capital” (Fukuyama, 1995) which is needed for individuals to trust each other and to foster collaboration.
  • The concept of empathy, which Crosby and Bryson (2005) perhaps define as “caring for the common good”. In this case  Mr. C. said: “We have to be aware that people suffer and we should try, if possible, to ease their suffering.”

I still like the idea that a good leader instills trust into collaborating agencies and thus creates public value and I thought I had hit a jackpot in my research.  But I was overly enthusiastic about having discovered the connection of leadership and social capital in fact there are some very good papers out there which did just that. I can just name three of them:

  • Hitt, M. A. & Ireland, R.D. (2002) The Essence of Strategic Leadership: Managing Human and Social Capital
  • King, N.K.  (2004) Social Capital and Nonprofit Leaders
  • Maak, T.  (2007) Responsible Leadership, Stakeholder Engagement, and the Emergence of Social Capital

Instead of ranting on what a great concept that is and how social capital relates to values, culture, internally and externally, I will give a little room for those excellent researchers.

King writes: “Nonprofits and their leaders would do well to take stock of their organization’s social capital, assessing the strengths and areas for improvement. The assessment could include identifying strategic networks and relationships that they need to developed. Importantly, this audit could also help the organization identify any problems or costs related to generating or leveraging social capital.”

Maak writes: “To conclude, I suggest to think of a responsible leader with respect to stakeholder engagement as a weaver of social ties, as an embedded and engaged networker who makes sure that her organization is ‘in sync’ with stakeholder expectations, and who is able to mobilize multiple stakeholders in a coalition to build a responsible and sustainable business.”

A leader as a weaver of social capital – I like that.


Crosby, C. & Bryson, J.  (2005) “Leadership for the common good”, San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons

Fukuyama, F.  (1995), “Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity”, New York: Free Press

Hitt, M. A. & Ireland, R.D. (2002) The Essence of Strategic Leadership: Managing Human and Social Capital, The Joumal of Leadership and Organizational Studies, 2002, Vol. 9, No.l

King, N. K  (2004) Social Capital and Nonprofit Leaders,  NONPROFIT MANAGEMENT & LEADERSHIP, vol. 14, no. 4, Summer 2004

Maak, T.  (2007) Responsible Leadership, Stakeholder Engagement, and the Emergence of Social Capital,  Journal of Business Ethics (2007) 74:329–343

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