When people describe leadership they often use contrasting concepts:  either command and control, or servant leaders.  Others contrast hard-edge management by the numbers with a softer and emotionally intelligent “coach.”  Even personal styles are seen as either loud, direct and aggressive, or quiet, indirect and reflective.  When leaders reflect on their own expressions of leadership, I’ve noticed they also tend to self-define in contrasting terms.

When we frame leadership in these either/or bipolar contrasts, we tend to get more of the same:  two dimensional leadership.  It’s either black or white, hard or soft, aggressive or reflective.

It’s time we embrace three dimensional leadership.  We value leaders primarily for their 1) good judgment,  2) decisions and 3) their ability to craft and communicate a compelling vision that others want to follow.  Since these are all part of the domain of value, I turn to the foremost expert in valuation and value analysis for some guidance.

Robert S. Hartman devoted his life work to determining what is good and to examining different dimensions of value.  In his system of formal axiology Hartman identified three valuational modes that he called the systemic, the extrinsic and the intrinsic.

Systemic leadership really is black and white and is concerned with the survival of an organization.  A systemic way of thinking operates in a bipolar universe.  It’s all or nothing, dead or alive, and if the real issue is the viability of an enterprise, systemic leadership is very appropriate.

Extrinsic leadership operates in a different dimension.  Instead of black and white, there is a whole continuum of options:  good, better and best for the optimist, or bad, worse and worst for the pessimist.  But even good and bad are systemic forced choices, so true extrinsic thinking also allows for the middle, for “good enough”, adequate, or “less than ideal”.  Most business leaders operate in the extrinsic frame with a greater or lesser attention on the economic impacts of their leadership.  The market for products and services is a very extrinsic place where companies compete, so extrinsic leadership is an important place to strive and show competence.  The downside is when leaders act, think or operate as if this is the only or the highest framework for making leadership choices.

Following Hartman’s categories, there is another dimension to consider.  Intrinsic leadership is aware of the systemic necessities and the extrinsic realities of business decisions.  It also reaches to the meaning-filled domain of humane leadership, ethical decision-making, and unique branding.  These are all areas that go beyond good, better and best and tap into something deep and resonant within us as people, as unique individuals.  Human aspirations and inspiration is part of the intrinsic domain, and some of the most powerful leaders tap these impulses effectively.

This is just a brief overview of how formal axiology can inform our view of leadership, but we need to be challenged to look deeper into our models of leadership and whether they include the full dimension of what human beings are striving for in their organizations.

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