Leading by Tweeting: speaking of values

Leading by Tweeting : Speaking of Values | Opinion | News | The University of Aberdeen

In December 2016 we launched a new publication, Speaking of Values, in Aberdeen. We used Twitter extensively to promote the book and companies reviewing, revising and reaffirming their values.

The book explores values though the lenses of a number of leaders across Scotland. Each one reflected on their personal values and the values of the organisations they led and worked for. The book is intended as a stimulus to further conversations on values and all profits from sales of the book are donated to charities.

Whilst preparing the book, I had a conversation with silversmith Michael Lloyd, maker of the Scottish Parliament mace. I wanted to find out more about the mace and the values inscribed upon it - wisdom, justice, integrity and compassion. Those values are set against the gold and silver representing the marriage of the people and the land. They are symbolic in some ways, just like the values which adorn company reception areas and corporate literature. However, where do these values come from and how are they lived, rather than just laminated?

The values inscribed on the Scottish Parliament mace came from the silversmith himself. He explained that as a design he tried to grab what was “in the air, at the time.” He tried to capture the mood and the spirit of the time. Whilst they were not necessarily his values, they were the values, he felt, “that people would want.” Talking about the choice of the value of wisdom, he noted that, for Scotland, whose education system has always been strong, this value was of particular importance.

There has been much comment about the mace’s missing value. Many believed courage was supposed to be the fifth value but that there was insufficient space to include it. Mr Lloyd confirmed that there had been a discussion around courage and there is something quite nice about this missing element being something for people to contemplate and debate.

The values on the mace in the Scottish Parliament feature in policy documents, such as schools Curriculum for Excellence. However, were they really meant for this purpose? Or were they values of the Scottish Parliamentarians? They were essentially chosen by one man, trying to capture the spirit of the time. Many might question how we select organisational values. Should there be greater consultation or research into values? Moreover, how do we look to reconcile values when they appear to be in competition and conflict in an increasingly complex and chaotic world?

The same can be said for values across society; public sector values of our police and health services, and also of our business sector, who increasingly are called upon to act ethically and with values which meet the expectations of society.

As part of the University of Aberdeen Business Breakfast series I want to slay a few shibboleths around values. They feature prominently in businesses - in plans, in corporate branding and in training. With further interrogation I want us to look at organisational and personal values through a new lens.

In the second part of the Business Breakfast I want to look at another part of business which has become ubiquitous but on further investigation, we might view differently. Many leaders are turning to Twitter to get their message across, celebrate success and even conduct negotiations! The President of the United States of American has just under 60 million followers and has infamously called North Korean President Kim Jong Un “Rocket Man” in some of his tweets.

Twitter offers leaders many opportunities, allows access to system wide information, is a self-publicity tool, but is also a risk. Can it provide corporate communications and cohesion? As with establishing visions, values and aims within the organisation two key questions might help: What is your core purpose? And who is your audience?

Whilst one Aberdeen hotel advises “not tweeting while eating”, in this business breakfast eating and tweeting will happen at the same time. Our audience is business leaders and our purpose is to explore to unexplored areas - business values and leadership and leading by tweeting.

Neil McLennan, senior lecturer and director of leadership programmes, University of Aberdeen

Neil McLennan, senior lecturer and director of leadership programmes, University of Aberdeen