The Psychology of Values in Leadership on the Individual and Collective Levels

One of the largest examples of unity through shared values seen throughout history is found within the Christian faith as it moved and adapted from various other religions and ideologies (Burns, 2003, p. 200). Many of the practices were adopted from Judaism, Catholicism, pagans, and philosophers and were molded into what is seen today (Burns, 2003, p. 200). However, it is not the practices, exercises, and customs that united others to commit to the Christian faith, but rather, their core and shared values (Burns, 2003, p. 201). What is integral within the faith and the group’s unity is the oneness shared between each member with the acknowledgment of a sovereign and all-powerful God who upholds righteousness for all and ensures care for the poor, the broken-hearted, and the suffering (Burns, 2003, p. 201). Thus, shared values play a crucial and invaluable role to the furthering of a group, religion, and ideology, uniting new and old members alike toward achieving a common purpose.

Looking at the formulation of values and identity through the lens of Psychology, we find an explanation through the Social Identity Theory. In this, people find value and identity through the groups of which they are a part (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Their membership within these groups yields a sense of pride, self-esteem, and belonging within the world (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In modest cases, we find meaningfulness and value through our interactions with others in groups (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). In extreme cases, we find pride, prejudice, racism, and sexism (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). This view can lead to an “us vs. them” outlook that serves to dehumanize and harm those whom we view as different or other (Tajfel & Turner, 1979). Within our groups, we must focus on values that seek to empower, uplift, give hope, and inspire those around us, as seen in the observation of Christianity’s example and movement through history. All groups will have factors and members who may be extreme in their beliefs, but the overarching message should always be one that unites its members to see past facades that discriminate and, instead, empower us to pursue what is lovely, pure, true, kind, compassionate, and merciful.

In my own personal leadership, I realize that I do not often think of the values found in the groups of which I am a part of, or how these shape how I interact with others. I desire that what I base my decisions and life on are things that are transformative not only to myself but also to those around me: I want to be a blessing to others in all experiences and circumstances, even when that is painful or difficult. When I reflect on my personal and core values, I realize that there are ways I can begin to change and shape these to be more aligned with focusing on the betterment of all humanity and not simply those closest to me or most similar to me. It calls for embracing those around me who are vastly different but still valuable and genuine in who they are, even when we may not see eye to eye. For how I seek to lead, then, I know that it is necessary for me to re-align and re-focus my values to be more life-giving, restorative, and humanizing to all whom I encounter, especially when it comes to who I relate to and interact with in my own group memberships and those who I may unconsciously perceive as “other” or “them”.

Lastly, in regard to faith, Stevenson recounts his experiences in seeking to exonerate Walter McMillian and the animosity and prejudice faced by those who supported Walter (Stevenson, 2015, p. 173-178). At every step, justice was subverted and hindered in order to save face for those who had wrongly imprisoned Walter (Stevenson, 2015, p. 181-184). They viewed Walter and his supporters in an “us vs. them” outlook, allowing this to color their values and beliefs with regard to the case. They looked to maintain their own basic, human rights at the expense of another innocent person, without critically considering the implications these values and beliefs had on those around them. As Christians, we are called to seek justice and righteousness for all, especially the downtrodden, the marginalized, the dehumanized, and those tormented for trivial matters that cause us to view them as being inherently different. It is imperative, then, that we actively work toward the reaffirmation of the humanness and value of all of humanity, partnering, encouraging, empowering, and loving them for who they are through realigning our values and beliefs, individually and collectively, toward this end.


Burns, J. M. (2003). Transforming leadership: A new pursuit of happiness (Vol. 213). Grove Press.

Stevenson, B. (2015). Just mercy: A story of justice and redemption. Spiegel & Grau.

Tajfel, H., & Turner, J. C. (1979). An integrative theory of intergroup conflict. The social psychology of intergroup relations?, 33, 47.

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