Embodying the organisation’s values

    Leaders embody their organisation’s values, carrying out “even the most routine and seemingly trivial tasks in such a way as to nudge their organisations towards their purposes” (Leithwood 2012). They approach the challenges of leadership with moral purpose, optimism, a sense of agency, and resilience. They are able to take thoughtful risks.

Educational leadership capability framework, Education Council, 2018

The full title for this capability is: Embodying the organisation’s values and showing moral purpose, optimism, agency, and resilience. 

This page summarises some thinking and research related to this capability. It is not a comprehensive or definitive background to the capability.

This capability covers concepts of ethical or moral leadership and moral purpose, as well as the psychological resources leaders need to be effective.

Research has found that values and moral purpose are essential for every leader to be effective, and that they help sustain leaders through difficult times and at challenging moments.

For leaders to embody their organisation’s values, it is important for them to:

  • be aware of their own motivational bases
  • distinguish personal values and preferences from professional obligations
  • analyse potential conflicts between their personal values and group or organisational values.

Moral leadership

John West-Burnham in his think piece (2001) explores the relationship between ethics, values and morals and what moral leadership entails.

Ethics are collective social values. Examples of ethical frameworks are the code of ethics for the teaching profession, and the Treaty of Waitangi.

Values are the translation of moral and spiritual dimensions into a coherent and meaningful set of personal constructs that inform language and action.

Morals are our values in action.

West-Burnham suggests that the relationship between ethics, values and morals can be shown in three questions:

  • What are the principles we should live by?
  • How do those principles become personally valid and meaningful?
  • How should we act?

He argues that for moral leadership, leaders need to:

  • be deeply knowledgeable about the ethics of education
  • be clear about, and regularly reflect on, their own personal value system
  • lead ethical discussions about fundamental education issues
  • create processes for agreeing ethical principles and moral norms
  • ensure the moral consensus works for all members of the community
  • consistently reinforce and model community values.

Ethical leadership

Another way to look at how we embody values is Starratt's framework of ethical leadership.

This framework proposes that leaders need to exercise three inter-related ethics when deciding and acting:

an ethic of care – valuing individuals and bringing out the best in them

an ethic of justice – dealing fairly and equitably with others and creating socially just and democratic conditions 

an ethic of critique – questioning who holds the power and whose interests are being served

Later authors have added an ethic of professionalism to these three.

(Ehrich, 2010)

Leading with moral purpose

Michael Fullan (2001) states that for leadership to be effective, it has to:

  • have an explicit making-a-difference purpose
  • use strategies to mobilise people to tackle tough problems
  • be accountable through measurable and debatable indicators of success
  • awaken people’s intrinsic commitment, that is, their sense of moral purpose.

A widely shared moral purpose underpins sustainability and makes it easier to prioritise and focus activity. But moral purpose can’t just be stated and it can’t just be a broad aspiration. People need to internalise it to change their behaviour.

For this to happen they need a common language and opportunities for discussion and reflection. “There needs to be clarity and detail in the way the purpose is understood – and in particular the values that underpin it" (Bezzina, 2009).

Leading with moral purpose – Louise Anaru

Transcript and commentary

Psychological resources

    "Psychological resources help us deal with the ambiguity and risk that is inevitably associated with leadership." (Ontario Ministry of Education, 2015)  

Optimism, a sense of agency, resilience, and the ability to take thoughtful risks – the leadership attributes listed in this capability – are termed the psychological resources in the Ontario leadership framework.

That framework groups the leadership traits and dispositions that research shows are most likely to influence the effectiveness of leadership practices into three types: cognitive, social and psychological.

Exploring the “psychological” personal leadership resources 

Read the report online (PDF) – Ontario Ministry of Education

    "Building and strengthening the psychological category of resources requires commitment, persistence, and more often than not the support of others." (p11)

This report summarises the research on optimism, self-efficacy, resilience and proactivity, and suggests strategies for developing them.

It starts by offering these definitions:


  • habitually expecting positive results from our efforts 
  • recognising where we have, and do not have, opportunities for direct influence and control
  • taking positive risks.


  • believing in our own ability to perform a task or achieve a goal
  • taking responsible risks, expending substantial effort
  • persisting in the face of initial failure.


  • recovering from, or adjusting to change or misfortune
  • thriving in challenging circumstances.


  • stimulating and effectively managing change under complex circumstances
  • showing initiative and perseverance in bringing about meaningful change.


Reflective questions

  • How do you make the school's values evident to your community? What is the connection between them and your moral purpose?
  • When would you feel justified in resisting an initiative or idea as a matter of principle? How would you test that your position was right?
  • What strategies could you use to keep strengthening your personal psychological resources?

Related pages

Manaakitanga – in Kiwi leadership for principals

Tū Rangatira: Māori-medium educational leadership

This capability features strongly in the whenu (key roles of leadership): 

  • He kaimahi – the worker

It is especially evident in the Mana wairua aho (key focus area of leadership) of the whenu. 

Tū rangatira (English)

Tū rangatira (te reo Māori)


Begley, P. (2001). Values in educational leadership – Do they really matter? Australian Principals Centre, Monograph Number 2. ACER.

Bezzina, M. (2007). Moral purpose and shared leadership.

Bon, S. Gerrick, W. Sullivan, D. Shea, S. (2006). Ethical leadership: A case study framework. Researchgate.

Ehrich, L. C. & Creyton, M. (2010). Leading with moral purpose: Insights from community leaders. Conference paper. 5th International Conference on Catholic Educational Leadership, 2010, Sydney.

Fullan, M. (2001). Moral purpose. National College of School Leadership.

Hall, A. (2001). What ought I to do, all things considered?

Ontario Ministry of Education. (2015). Exploring the “psychological” personal leadership resources. Ideas into Action. 

Weaver, R. (2007). What principals need to know about ethics. Principal magazine. NAESP.

West-Burnham, J. (2001). Moral Leadership. National College of School Leadership. Accessed from UNRWA.

Image credit: Ian Schneider, Passion led us here, on Unsplash

Tell a colleague | Back to top