The Clarity of Mission and Values: An Interview with James W. Davis

Are people “born leaders” or can it be developed?

I definitely think leaders can be developed. I also believe that certain personality types, backgrounds and experiences impact the nature of the leader development experiences that are effective for individuals.

What are the most important leadership lessons you’ve learned?

Here are the major lessons I’ve learned:

  1. One must learn to “lead self” before you can lead others

  2. Listen, Listen, Listen

  3. Clarity of mission is essential

  4. Clarity of values and the ability to live by and model those values is required to be effective.

  5. Leadership requires the use of both “soft” and “hard” power

How has your leadership style evolved?

Over the years I have learned the absolute importance of clarity of mission and values for the leader.  Leadership is about enlisting and engaging others around the mission and carrying out the mission in the context of share values.  Martin Luther King helped me clarify the use of power and love as a leader. In the following quote: “What is needed is a realization that power without love is reckless and abusive, and love without power is sentimental and anemic.”  Too often leaders wield only their power or care only about being liked.  The focus has to be on the mission and values as well as on conduct that enlists, engages and sustains the involvement of others.

What leadership concepts do you consider during your day-to-day?

Every day I ask if my actions are contributing to my mission, are my behaviors and the behaviors of those around me consistent with our values. I also ask, am I growing as a leader and am I helping those around me grow into their potential. I ask if I am listening and if I am reading the environment around me.  Do I have an “eye trained on the future”?  Am I balancing the tactical aspects of moving the organization toward its mission with the strategic thinking necessary to insure we adapt to the future.

What are the most important ideas a burgeoning leader ought to consider?

  1. Who am I as a leader?

  2. What are my values?  How do my behaviors reflect those values?

  3. What is my greater purpose?

  4. What are my strengths as a leader?  Am I using those strengths effectively?

  5. Where do I need to grow as a leader?  What is my plan to nurture that growth?

  6. How will I enlist and engage others in my mission.  How will I sustain their involvement over time?

What leadership skills or competencies do you look for when hiring?

  1. Curiosity

  2. Excellent communication skills – especially the ability to listen effectively

  3. Strong set of values

  4. Foresight

  5. Desire to learn and improve

  6. Commitment to the mission