articles, December 11, 2023

Value-Based Leadership in Distributed Teams

Leadership in Distributed Teams

Value-based leadership in distributed teams refers to a leadership approach that centers around the shared beliefs of both the leader and the team. On a personal level, this method emphasizes aligning actions and decisions with one's individual values. The essence of value-based leadership lies in prioritizing honesty, integrity, and authenticity over immediate results and accomplishments at the intersection of the leader's and the team's values. In the long term, this leadership style is expected to yield sustainable and scalable results and improvements.


Maria Cherkas | Project Manager at Coherent Solutions

How to apply value-based leadership principles in distributed teams?

1. Start with Yourself

At its core, value-based leadership demands that a leader possesses a clear understanding of their own values and priorities, both on personal and professional levels. Therefore, the application of a value-based approach to leadership should be founded on a certain level of self-awareness, honesty, and a readiness to delve deep into one’s personal motivations and drives.

Getting to know yourself is by no means a one-time exercise but rather a lifelong journey that requires dedication, persistence, and curiosity. The insights and revelations about our own true nature are not always pleasant and easy to accept, so a certain amount of courage might be a bonus too.

2. Hire the Right People

Once the leader has a clear vision of their own values, it would be natural to seek individuals who share the same set of principles. Tempting as it may seem, such an approach may not be viable for several reasons. Firstly, there may not be enough like-minded individuals available to build a team of the required size within a reasonable time frame. Secondly, constructing a team solely around the leader’s values could negatively impact the team’s diversity of opinions and backgrounds, limiting its ability to efficiently solve issues.

A more realistic and sustainable approach would then be to allow for a certain level of flexibility around the leader’s values and to seek team members who are likely to understand each other’s perspectives, without the requirement of having identical value systems.

It is never too late to try a value-based leadership approach with an existing team as well. In this case, it is recommended to develop a list of shared values with the active participation of the team. A natural opportunity to initiate this conversation would be during the hiring process when there’s a need to recruit new team members. The list of shared values that the team collaboratively creates becomes a valuable tool in the interview process, aiding in the identification of candidates who are more likely to align with the team culture.

Another occasion to reference the list of team values is during the onboarding process. Here, the leader can introduce the values to all new hires and engage in an open discussion to ensure everyone comprehends how these values are translated into daily activities.

3. Be Authentic

A list of team values will merely be words on paper unless they align with one’s actions in everyday life. The leader’s behavior can serve as an example of living these values, inspiring other team members to adhere to their beliefs.

It is crucial to note that value-based leadership is not about imposing the leader’s values on the team. It’s more about nurturing the values that all team members share. It can also be about creating a safe space where individuals feel respected and free to express their beliefs.

4. Tighten Your Team

Traditions and small rituals are a popular way to nurture team values and create a unique team culture. If a team that was previously co-located now has to work in a distributed mode, it makes sense to discuss with the team how they can transfer the traditions they loved into the new environment. This conversation might also inspire them to suggest new rituals. While some of these new traditions may not stick, it is important to keep experimenting and trying new things.

Team rituals

It is not necessarily the leader’s responsibility to suggest new ideas here; it might even be much better if it is the team members who initiate new traditions. The leader should simply be there to provide support and resources if needed.

Remote work is very likely to weaken the connections that existed between people, especially if they end up in different sub-teams and do not communicate about their tasks on a daily basis. It might make sense to reshuffle these sub-teams sometimes, even if they are well-established and efficient. This change might bring a welcome shift into the routine and help build new connections between people, ultimately tightening the team.

5. Trust Your Team

Value-based leadership not only nurtures a positive team culture but is also likely to enhance the quality of decisions by introducing diversity and considering a broader range of perspectives. Once the leader and the team align on shared values, it becomes easier for them to evaluate various options and choose those that best fit the team’s values and overall project mission.

In the long run, a decentralized approach to decision-making fosters trust and a sense of ownership within the team, resulting in positive outcomes for results and the quality of deliverables. Moreover, this environment of trust and creativity encourages individual acts of leadership, helping to identify those with great leadership potential.


A leader inspired by a value-based approach is more likely to create a positive and meaningful impact, both personally and professionally. Constructing a team around a shared set of values establishes a safe environment of trust, ownership, creativity, and, ultimately, much higher productivity.

Living your values and embodying them in your work can inspire others to follow your example and discover a path to a more sustainable and authentic way of living.


  • 1. Are there any recommended exercises to reveal one’s leadership values?

    There are multiple approaches to identifying one’s values. Many of them begin with creating a list of things that you find important, things that evoke happiness, anger, or any other strong emotions. If the list appears to be extensive, try grouping the values into categories and prioritize them if necessary. The next step is to provide your own definition for each of the values on the list. I personally find this step particularly powerful as it reminds me that my interpretation of values like freedom, honesty, integrity, etc., might differ significantly from that of other people.

    Remember that values and their priorities might change over time, so it makes sense to revisit the list as often as needed.

  • 2. What is the recommended way to approach a conversation about values with the team?

    One approach is to begin with the list of your values, present it to the team, and see if they share any of them. This conversation might inspire individuals to create their own lists. The team can then explore overlaps and use them to generate a shared list of team values.

    Another method is to initiate the process of building a list of team values by asking your colleagues to describe a perfect or typical team member. It is a simple and informal way to uncover what the team members appreciate or dislike as a group, thereby guiding the identification of core values.

  • 3. How to incorporate values into the hiring process?

    When the team prepares for a round of interviews, they need to be aligned on who could be a good addition to the team. Any of the exercises described above can serve as a framework for revealing core team values. An important additional step is to discuss which questions can be used to confirm the presence or absence of a certain value and how to interpret the candidate’s behavior.

    Please note that a list of red flags and undesirable qualities is as important as a list of positive values, perhaps even more so, as it helps filter out candidates who would be a poor cultural fit early in the process.

    It might take several rounds to end up with a final list of values, personal qualities, and an accompanying question guide for the interview. However, this effort helps achieve two goals: a better understanding of who the team is and a group of potential interviewers who share the same vision regarding desired qualities and how to identify them.

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