Values based leadership and creating compassionate cultures

Having explored what Compassionate Leadership is (see here), on this page, some of the values-based leadership theories and influencing cultures of care and compassion within our organisations is explored. Understanding our organisational cultures and being able to influence these can support how we make improvements for our delivery of patient care and enables our professional values to be placed central to how an organisation functions. Values- based leadership places the philosophical views at the core, emphasising the importance of shared beliefs to increase motivation and productivity within the workforce. Leaders act on behalf of others and aim to influence conditions and resources that support wellbeing and motivation.

By the end of this section, you will be able to:

  • Identify why organisational cultures are important
  • Understand how values-based leadership can influence the culture of where you practice
  • Reflect on areas of care where values and culture can make positive improvements in care
  • Consider how you may be able to influence the culture of your workplace and organisation


What is organisational culture?

The culture of an organisation is influenced by many things including wider aspects such as political and economic elements. Culture is also influenced by the values, norms and behaviours of those who work within and lead the organisation. These shape the way we function, how effective we achieve our personal and organisational goals, and the quality of the outputs and outcomes we deliver. For healthcare, as we are dealing with people, health and social conditions, the importance of an organisational culture of care and compassion is paramount, reflecting all of the professional values and central aspects of delivering safe and effective care. A compassionate culture encourages a supportive and inclusive environment for its workforce also, creating a blame free and creative place to work, valuing the wellbeing of those who work within it, as well as those who receive care.

Within healthcare, there are other issues which have influenced working cultures such as the recent pandemic and already overworked staff, low financial reward, stress and moral distress and excessive workload (West et al 2020). To improve and support workplace culture, West et al (2020) suggest the following core elements of focus:
autonomy – the need to have control over our work lives, and to be able
to act consistently with our work and life values
• belonging – the need to be connected to, cared for, and caring of others
around us in the workplace, and to feel valued, respected and supported
• contribution – the need to experience effectiveness in what we do and
deliver valued outcomes, such as high-quality care (Stone et al 2009)

One of the key recommendations of this report (Link) is ensuring organisations nurture and care for staff and support a high-quality continuous improvement. James et al (2020), in a review of the nursing literature found evidence to support values-based leadership in enhancing nurses’ organisational citizenship behaviours and recognised the potential of values-based leadership on staff well-being, professional collaboration and improvements in quality patient care. To enable this, supportive culture, leadership needs to driven by one of the values-based leadership approaches, such as compassionate leadership (West 2021).


Values based leadership theories

The Francis report (2013) revealed the negative aspects of failing organisational cultures, and the impact of culture on patient safety and organisational learning (Francis 2015). How leaders and individuals influence culture in a positive way is linked to how they act, how behaviours and attitudes are made evident throughout the organisation. Values- based leadership can encourage a shared purpose by reflecting professional values through actions ( Stanley et al 2022) . For example, if staff feel they are not listened to, or their work is not valued by those they perceive as ‘leaders’, they are likely to reflect that in their behaviour to others, become less enthusiastic and feel undervalued. When leaders demonstrate positive values and beliefs through actions, take responsibility and be positive role models, this can positively influence and champion supportive cultures.

Congruent leadership (Stanley 2008) is a theory which places values and beliefs central to the approach. Congruent leaders are driven by values and principles, motivational and inspiring, effective communicators and committed to respecting others (Stanley 2017). This approach to leadership does not require the leader to be in a hierarchical position, so all health professionals can be effective demonstrating dignity, honesty and integrity which are central to healthcare professional values also. So clearly aligning values to actions and behaviours is the focus of Congruent Leadership and by removing the hierarchical positioning, Stanley (2008) emphasises that all healthcare practitioners can become leaders, effective role models and empowered decision makers, having positive impacts on healthcare delivery and positive workplace cultures.

Authentic Leadership (Avolio and Gardner 2005) also places values and beliefs central to the leader’s approach, emphasising the importance of leadership on organisational culture. Authentic leaders will engage with all staff in the organisation and promote engagement and positive behaviour. Further development of this theory by Gonzalez (2012) also places self-awareness, self leadership and mindful ness as central to this approach. Respecting and listening to others influences a positive and open working culture and being ‘Authentic’ to the role of leadership places emphasis on valuing all who contribute to delivering care.

Servant Leadership (Greenleaf 1998) asserts that a leader has a desire to serve first and leadership then follows. The Servant Leader theory prioritizes others’ firstly, placing the nurturing of others needs and professional development at the core. This approach encourages collaboration, trust and empathy and the use of ethical and moral foundations. Key principles this this theory include compassion and caring, listening and awareness, empathy and healing, building communities and stewardship among others, which can encourage communities of shared aims and values, and caring and compassionate cultures (Greenleaf 1998).

Now that you understand the importance of organisational culture and the potential influence of values-based leadership on cultures of care what can you do to make your professional values visible through your actions and developing a values-based leadership approach in your workplace

  • Read your professional standards and take note of where values link to these leadership theories.
  • Consider all the people you have worked with who you think demonstrate their values in their actions and ow they do this.
  • Think of the challenges that you may face in developing values-based leadership within the culture of the workplace, what are the barrier and what are the facilitators?

Suggested activities

Watch these short videos and consider the challenges and how you can influence compassionate culture in your workplace.

  • Make a list of your values, they may be personal and/or professional values. Discuss with a professional colleague and discuss how you both may express these in your clinical practice.



Francis  R (2013) The Mid Staffordshire NHS Foundation Trust Public Inquiry.

Francis R (2015) Sir Robert Francis’ Freedom to Speak Up Review. London: Department of Health.

Gardner W, Avolio B. (2005) Authentic leadership theory and practice: Origins, effects and development (Vol. 3). Monographs in leadership and management. Elsevier Science

Gonzalez M (2012) Mindful Leadership. Ontario, John Wiley & Sons

Greenleaf R K (1998) The Power of Servant Leadership. Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

James A H, Bennett CL, Blanchard D, Stanley D (2021) Values based leadership. A literature review. Journal of Nursing Management 1; 00:1–15.

Stanley D (2008) Congruent Leadership. Values in Action. Journal of Nursing Management. vol 64. Pp 84-95

Stanley D, Bennet C L, James A H (2022) Clinical Leadership in Nursing and Healthcare 3rd edition. John Wiley & Sons

Stone D N, Deci E L, Ryan R M (2009) Beyond talk: creating autonomous motivation through self-determination theory. Journal of General Management, vol 34, (3) pp 75–91.

West M, Bailey S, Williams (2020) The Courage of Compassion. Supporting nurses and midwives to deliver high-quality care. King’s Fund.

West  M (2021) Compassionate leadership: Sustaining wisdom, humanity and presence in health and social care. UK, Swirling Leaf Press.


To cite this page please use James A.H 2022. Values based leadership and creating compassionate cultures in Clouston et al., Becoming a caring & compassionate practitioner. Available on line [add date when you accessed].



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