Values are Foundational to Effective Leadership

Tom Monheim Batten Hour

From waging a war to writing a letter, or navigating any situation in between, leaders who stay true to their values and the nation’s values, and exhibit their integrity and humanity will be the ones who are successful, said Tom Monheim, Inspector General of the U.S. Intelligence Community and this week’s guest speaker for Batten Hour at the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy.  

“I applaud the Batten school for promoting values-based leadership,” he said, “which I believe is an enlightened and effective leadership approach.”

Monheim shared his perspective on leadership developed over his more than 30 years in public service, including in the military, law enforcement and intelligence. He has served at the federal government’s senior executive level, with four presidential appointments in both Republican and Democratic administrations, and a unanimous Senate confirmation. (See bio here).

Monheim outlined his 10-point framework for values-based leadership. First and foremost is to value and genuinely care for people.  As the saying goes, “People will not care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” He acknowledged he didn’t fully appreciate this until mid-career after receiving feedback from an anonymous survey as part of a leadership program. He now spends more time learning about his team members as people, and is committed to making sure they know how much he cares. 

“I walk the halls. I talk to people. I write notes. I send care packages. I maximize work flexibility,” he said. As a result, he has seen improvements in recruitment, retention, and resilience of employees, as well as better morale and improved productivity. “Caring is not only the right thing to do, it’s also the smart thing to do.”

When discussing the importance of aligning values, Monheim noted the National Security Strategy (2022) is based on “the United States leading with our values” and “working in lockstep with our allies and partners and with all those who share our interests.” He also noted the National Intelligence Strategy (2023) envisions “an Intelligence Community that embodies America’s values” and the success of the community is measured “as much by our defense of America’s values as it is by the execution of our intelligence mission.”

Another point in his values-based leadership framework: Hold yourself and others accountable, give and receive feedback, both positive and constructive. Having difficult conversations is by definition difficult, Monheim admitted, but it’s best to have them early and directly when necessary in order to instill a values-based culture. Successful leaders also accept accountability for their own and their team’s actions and whatever happens on their watch.

Tom Monheim Batten Hour2

A profound example of this he personally witnessed was when the 9/11 Commission interviewed President George W. Bush and asked who is responsible for ensuring America didn’t use hindsight to prepare for the next threat. “Me,” was the president’s reply.  That is the job of the president: pick a great group of people and then expect them to do their jobs with the right strategy.

When asked about maintaining values in the face of challenges, Monheim said he keeps a copy of the U.S. Constitution in his breast pocket as a constant reminder of his oath of office.  He also said his team is constantly reminded about their shared values, which are included in the team’s vision statement, strategy and performance objectives – he even had them engraved on the wall at the office entrance for all staff and visitors to see. Monheim believes it is important to follow your values even when others aren’t – “maintain your integrity, treat people with respect and civility, and continue to lead by example.” 

The last point in the framework is: Leadership (like life) is a journey, not a destination. “I’ve had a 5-year plan since high school, and it’s been wrong every time,” Monheim said. Some of the most interesting, impactful and rewarding experiences are those not sought out. It’s important to stay open to the possibilities along the way. 

“I’m continually learning and growing. I think about Thomas Jefferson’s commitment to lifelong learning -- I consider myself in that category.”  He also encouraged students to not defer happiness and to take good care of themselves – to “put on your own oxygen mask first” – so they’ll be better equipped to effectively lead others. 

Monheim encouraged students to consider serving in the Intelligence Community or elsewhere in the government because “we need talented and thoughtful people to try and address hard challenges.” In any event, he added, “Enjoy the journey, wherever it takes you!”


Monheim shared a list of resources he referenced related to leadership, national security and intelligence. 

Garrett Hall at Sunset

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