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Leadership Beyond Reason: How Great Leaders Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Their Values, Feelings, and Intuition

Leadership Beyond Reason: How Great Leaders Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Their Values, Feelings, and Intuition

by John Townsend

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A human behavior expert reveals that what leaders know about themselves is more important than their leadership skills and job knowledge.

Who we are on the inside can determine leadership success more than what we do or what we know. In Leadership Beyond Reason, Dr. Townsend explores the critical role of the leader’s internal


A human behavior expert reveals that what leaders know about themselves is more important than their leadership skills and job knowledge.

Who we are on the inside can determine leadership success more than what we do or what we know. In Leadership Beyond Reason, Dr. Townsend explores the critical role of the leader’s internal world, the world of passion, emotions, intuition, creativity, values, self-awareness, conscience, and spiritual life. Unveiling links between personal and organizational success or failure and the contents of a leader’s “heart,” the author shows that leaders excel not just through skill and smarts but by connecting with others using  competencies, like curiosity, attention, reality assessment, distortion detecting, relationship building, ownership, and living with ambiguity. This is the leadership book only a world-respected psychologist could have written, and it is revolutionary in its insight.

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Leadership Beyond Reason

How Great Leaders Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Their Values, Feelings, and Intuition
By John Townsend

Thomas Nelson

Copyright © 2009 Dr. John Townsend
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-7852-2877-6

Chapter One


The Bedrock of Leadership

Veteran actor Christopher Walken was being interviewed by a group of reporters about his life and work. The setting, an auditorium, was simple. Walken sat on a chair on an empty stage. The reporters sat in the audience seats. They asked him questions, and he answered off the cuff.

After several queries about his work and life, one journalist asked, "When you die and go to heaven, what do you want God to say to you?"

Walken replied, "'You were right.'"

Walken's clever comment underscores two realities that are necessary to every leader:

1. It is important to have values.

2. It is important to have the right values.

I will add a third one to that, which we will examine later in this chapter:

3. It is important for your values to be from inside you.

Your leadership, as well as your life, will reflect your values, for good or for bad.

Your values are beyond reason. That is, they are true and absolute for you, whether or not you think about them. Your values are simply aspects of reality that are guides for you. In Walken's case, "You were right" is another way of saying, "You lived life the right way. You were on the right path. You did life right. You oriented your moves so that the right things happened." That is what discovering your values is all about, thinking through the process of determining what guides and principles will order our steps. Values are about what is right and what matters.

Your inside life is the repository of your values, so we begin with values because most of your life springs from them. Your values are the bedrock of your identity. And your leadership, as well as your life, will reflect your values, for good or for bad. Some people are in prison right now because their values guided them to that end. And others are succeeding beyond their wildest dreams for the same reason.

What Are Values?

The word value basically means "worth." A value is something that you determine has a great deal of worth. So your values are those realities you believe in at the deepest level, so much so that they dictate your decisions and your leadership, even at your own risk.

The role of values in leadership and in the marketplace has received a great deal of attention and research for some time now. Experts today consider values to be critical to success. Organizations spend a great deal of time working out the values that best fit their mission and context. Here are a few examples of values that leaders and organizations have used:

Treating people well

A quality product

Customer service


The best for less


Making the organization a safe place for growth

The values of a group work best when they reflect the values of the leader. Organizational values help guide the mission, but personal values are ultimately where organizational values are derived from. As a leader, your personal values are about how you look at life, not just your organization. They are broader and more universal. They operate in business, in life, in love, in family. As you look at the examples below, you can see how personal values define the organizational ones:


Caring for the welfare of others


Allowing others choices


Taking ownership

Personal integrity

A commitment to reality

I believe it's a mistake to come up with organizational values until you have done the work of determining your personal ones. Personal values will always override organizational values. For example, if a person does not have a high value for allowing choice and giving freedom to others (the micromanager scenario), it isn't likely that innovation will occur in the organization, as control hinders creativity. So the order is personal values first, organizational values second.

Wholehearted Values

Say, however, that you have spent time determining both your organizational and personal values. There is another step to consider here as well, and that is whether or not your values are really and authentically from you. How can you know if your stated values are ones that are actually part of who you are? I have seen many leaders who considered their organizational values in some sort of consultation or task setting and were diligent about it. And the result was a Word document, an e-mail, a poster, a reminder of things that everyone signed off on. But at the end of the day, no one would really and truly change their behavior based on these stated values. Nor would they think about them when faced with an opportunity or a problem. These values weren't part of the fabric of the leader's heart. They were helpful and potentially valuable, but they weren't considered.

For example, I was friends with a group of people in a corporation that provided media services. The CEO, Randy, was a very competent, creative, and positive person. He had come from another industry in the corporate environment and was adapting what he knew to the media world. One of Randy's strengths was that he didn't pretend to be perfect. He admitted when he was wrong, didn't hide mistakes, and was gracious when other people struggled. He talked about having a high value for authenticity, and people were drawn to his vulnerability. He laughed at his mistakes, and people in his organization felt safe and comfortable around him.

However, Randy didn't really play the tape all the way to the end in terms of what authenticity meant. When you have a high value for authenticity, it follows that you must also take responsibility for whatever you are being authentic about! So if you make a mistake and admit it, that is a good thing. But true authenticity means that you also do whatever you have to do to address and resolve the situation.

As it turns out, Randy made an error in judgment that cost the organization a great deal of money. He did not take into account some market shifts. That happens. It was a big deal but not so big that the organization wanted to let him go. They were willing to work with him, make the necessary corrections, and move on. Lesson learned. However, in order to do this, the board of directors began some very frank and direct talks with Randy so that everyone could do the right surgery, be on the same page, and resolve the issue.

It is important to make sure your values are wholehearted-that is, from the core of who you are.

After the second meeting, Randy resigned. He felt that the board was too harsh and unfair in their evaluations. I knew the board members and had heard their side of the situation. It sounded like while they were very honest, they were also on Randy's side and tried to be balanced. This was Randy's first serious mistake, and they were surprised by his reaction. With his previous misdemeanor offenses, Randy would admit his errors, people would be compassionate, and everyone would put them behind him. But this time, Randy's serious error in judgment was categorized a felony that could not be as easily overlooked. Due diligence and a lot of digging were necessary to do the job correctly.

Randy's resignation revealed that his value for authenticity was halfhearted. It looked good on paper and in small matters, but it wasn't real when it involved difficulty and confrontation. Randy was authentic to the point of admitting small problems; however, he did not have the stomach to look at his major failures. Instead, he felt misunderstood and persecuted when others pointed out serious problems even when they wanted to help him.

This is what I mean about your inner life. It is important to make sure your values are wholehearted-that is, from the core of who you are. How can you know? Here are some things to consider. Before you read the list of principles below, pull out your own list of values if you have one. With these stated values in mind, think about the principles below. This will help you see how deep down they go.

When Your Values Aren't Lived Out, It Bothers You

If your values are a part of you, you notice when they aren't fleshed out and executed, especially in a business or organization setting. Not only do you notice, but you are bothered by it. The event just doesn't register on your screen; you have an alert going off inside, saying, This isn't OK with me! You can't just pass it off.

For example, suppose fairness is one of your personal values; you want to see people treated justly in your group. Then say your direct report comes to you with a complaint about another individual and neglects to go to that person first. That is gossip. It hurts people, and it isn't fair treatment. If fairness is a deep value, you will be bothered by this even though the information about the individual could be useful to you. But the bigger picture is what you respond to, and your sense of being disturbed is a good thing.

When it comes to values, you want to always know who you are.

Before the national elections last year, I attended a fund-raiser. The speaker, a well-known leader, was talking about the upcoming presidential election, and he went over the positions the candidates were taking on various issues. Then he talked about the dilemma most of us face in an election: we don't agree with everything any one candidate says, so how do we decide for whom to vote? His values aha statement that stuck with me was, "There are some issues I don't have to agree with and will still vote for a candidate. But some issues are so important to me that if I voted for a person who disagreed with my position on them, I wouldn't know who I am anymore." That is what I mean by "when your values aren't lived out, it bothers you." Compromise and negotiation are valuable in leadership. But when it comes to values, you want to always know who you are.

Some people can be faced with values dilemmas and not be bothered. They quickly make a decision, count the losses, and move on. This is not a good sign. It could mean that they haven't really delved into the value, and it's still an idea, but no more. Or it could mean that they think more in terms of what author James O'Toole calls contingency, meaning that the values aren't universal but relative to the situation. These people believe they can change the rules of integrity if the situation warrants it, which is a serious problem. Finally, it could mean that they have a character problem, and instead of seeking consistency and integration inside, they compartmentalize incompatible realities. They aren't upset when values are violated. This requires more work if that is the case.

When Your Values Are Lived Out, You know Why

This is the flip side of the previous principle. If your values are a part of you, you notice when they are being lived out. You see the value that undergirds the situation, and you understand why and how it operates.

Taking the example above, your direct report comes to you after he has done the hard work of confronting the individual. Unfortunately, the individual was defensive or nonresponsive. So now your direct report asks you for help with the individual, as you are his next step in the protocol. You know that it was difficult for him to attempt to talk to the individual. But he was being fair to the individual. It was the right thing to do. And you know it was not only the right thing for the organization, but it bodes well for your group's success. People do better when they know they are treated fairly. And people in your organization trust you and your best practices more because you play by the rules. So you see values executed, you understand why, and you know that, as my partner Dr. Henry Cloud says, "The good guys win."

You Experience Your Values more Than memorizing Them

When your values are internally based, you often don't even think about them explicitly. They have become so ingrained that they are just part of how you think, judge, and lead. It's certainly helpful to review your list of values and continue updating and improving them. But when they are the right ones, it's more like you live what you value.

Here's a recent example of this. I was working with a pastor who had a rocky relationship with one of his colleagues. He had disagreed with a decision his colleague had made, and in response, the other pastor had accused him of victimizing him and began an informal underground campaign against the first pastor. The conflict was threatening to tear the church apart. People were taking sides. After carefully listening to information from both sides, I believed the first pastor was in the right and the second one was clearly wrong. I went to the first one and said, "I believe you in this situation. But I think you should call the other pastor and offer to reconcile somehow. I know he should call you first, but because he feels like you've treated him wrong, he won't. If you want to solve this problem, I think it's your move."

I knew that this pastor had a high value on ownership-that is, taking responsibility for his life and his outcomes. The man didn't hesitate. He immediately picked up the phone and made the call. He humbled himself to being the one who owned the problem and reached out to the other pastor though he had been wronged. The second man eventually left, but his exit was not nearly as traumatic to the church as it could have been.

I want to focus on the immediate part of this story. I had expected the first pastor to say something like, "It's his problem; why doesn't he come to me?" He could have, except that he was living out the ownership value. He did not have to pull out an index card with his list of values and review what he should do. There was no need to. His internal world had already been informed by his values, and he went the extra mile of ownership.

You Think About Values in Terms of Your Outcomes

Let's return to the big idea of this book: leading from your inner world ultimately produces better results in your leadership. So as you work on your organization, your people, and your goals, you are able to see how the right values are essential in bringing about the fruit you want. They are in your conversations, plans, and decisions. For example, I complimented a friend of mine who is part owner of a manufacturing organization. He had told me his story of how he had begun at nineteen with nothing, apprenticing himself to an older man. He had truly begun at the lowest rung of the ladder. Now, in his forties, he was quite successful.

Leading from your inner world ultimately produces better results in your leadership.

I was impressed by his work. When I complimented him, he said, "A lot of this is because I have tried to be aware that there's a lot I don't know, so I always need to listen and learn." As they say, he knows what he doesn't know. Not surprisingly, my friend has a high personal value of reality. He has no need to be seen as anyone special. He has a commitment to understand reality so that he can help his organization. And you can see that, in our conversation, his mind immediately went to his value on reality as soon as I complimented him. He tied in his good outcomes to his value, an indication that it goes deep inside him.

Copyright © 2009 by Dr. John Townsend . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Dr. John Townsend is a leadership consultant, psychologist, and New York Times bestselling author. He has written twenty-seven books, selling 10 million copies, including the 3 million-selling Boundaries series. John is founder of the Townsend Institute for Leadership and Counseling and conducts the Townsend Leadership program. He travels extensively for corporate consulting, speaking, and working with leadership families. He and his wife Barbi have two sons, and live in Newport Beach, California. One of John's favorite hobbies is playing in a band that performs in Southern California lounges and venues. 

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