The #1 leadership model you’ve never heard of

As I was trying to think of a catchy title for this piece I remembered a comment made over the weekend. The most successful management books (based on sales) usually have a number at the beginning and a link to something like a secret recipe for success at the end. The fact that most are just faddish repackaged garbage rather than insightful theory is another thing.

I hope you will forgive the click bait title and see some value in what I will briefly outline here.

At the heart of the organisational theory that I predominantly work with sits a model that I believe can help address a significant amount of issues in change management.

The organisational theory is, of course, Systems Leadership Theory; developed by Ian Macdonald, Catherine Burke, and Karl Stewart. I know Ian from a while back and I had the great pleasure of meeting both Catherine and Karl at the annual Systems Leadership Conference last weekend. The model I am referring to is the values continua.


A core assumption of SLT is that humans have shared core values, despite race, religion, or nationality. This might on the surface seem like a preposterous assertion as we daily hear about values clashes between various groups. If we dig a bit deeper, however, we often find that the conflict between these groups is not a values clash at all. The conflicting views come from the behaviours that each group believe is a positive or negative representation of that value.

If you pay attention to the news, listen to political representatives speak about their opposition. They will undoubtedly try to position some behaviour of the other party to the right side on the values continua for one or more of the core values.

A very recent example in Australia is the sacking of Tony Abbott. People against that political move will say that Malcolm Turnbull’s behaviour was on the right side of the values continua, i.e. a combination of unfair, disrespectful, cowardly, dishonest, etc. The other side’s argument will position Turnbull’s move to the left on the values continua, suggesting it was fair, courageous, and honest.

Conflict, unless based on purely ideological grounds, usually the result of one or more of the core values being aggrieved.

So before you take that next action with your team or send that communication piece out, think about how the cohort of people on the receiving end may interpret that action and where on the values continua they would place it.

Below is a great keynote by Ian Macdonald, he talks about the values continua around 32 minutes in but well worth watching the whole thing.



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