Worldview Does a person’s worldview impact his or her way of leadership and leadership strategies, and how it leads to different outcomes in the organizati

 Does a person’s worldview impact his or her way of leadership and leadership strategies, and how it leads to different outcomes in the organization? 

  

Each post must be approx. 250 words and –

(a) cite the preceding post (where applicable), 

(b) cite at least two readings from the course or program, and 

(c) conclude with an open-ended question raised by your own reflection. 

Leadership is about ideas and actions. Put simply, it is about implementing new ideas into creative

actions to achieve desired results. Doing so, however, is far from simple. We know leadership re-

quires considerable skills and abilities. It requires knowledge and insight—about one’s organization

or entity, its people, goals, strengths and market niche. Yet, something more is needed. Leadership

also requires a kind of awareness beyond the immediate, an awareness of the larger pictures—of

paradigms that direct us, beliefs that sustain us, values that guide us and principles that motivate us,

our worldviews.

This article will, first, briefly examine how the concept of worldviews is used in leadership study

and the contexts in which it arises. Second, it will critically look at worldviews, recognizing that they

are not always coherent and that our belief systems are often fragmented and incomplete. Third, it

will argue for the relevance of the concept worldview in leadership study as a way to explore vari-

ous visions of life and ways of life that may be helpful in overcoming the challenges we face today.

Fourth, it will examine how national and global issues impact worldview construction, especially

among the millennial generation. Our conclusions set some directions for leadership action in light

of worldview issues.

W O R L D V I E W S A N D

L E A D E R S H I P : T H I N K I N G

A N D A C T I N G T H E B I G G E R

P I C T U R E S

JOHN VALK, STEPHAN BELDING, ALICIA CRUMPTON,
NATHAN HARTER, AND JONATHAN REAMS

54

JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES, Volume 5, Number 2, 2011
©2011 University of Phoenix
View this article online at wileyonlinelibrary.com • DOI:10.1002/jls.20218

JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls 55

as well as the effect of dispelling earlier assumptions of
an overriding homogeneous and uniform worldview
embraced by all.

At this point the concept of worldview is often used
interchangeably with terms such as mental models, par-
adigms, organizing devices, contexts, and operating systems
(Beck & Cowan, 1996; Klenke, 2008). A worldview is
seen as serving a particular function, encompassing
deeply held beliefs about reality that shape and influ-
ence how individuals think and act. Worldviews deter-
mine priorities and reinforce one’s view of reality and
of what is true and right (Barrett, 2006; Ciulla, 2000;
Hames, 2007). Yet, where it has focused specifically on
worldviews, leadership study has confined it largely to
religious and spiritual worldviews as applied to indi-
viduals and groups or organizations (Hicks, 2003;
Lindsey, 2007). It has left numerous secular world-
views largely unexamined.

The concept of worldview does surface within lead-
ership development. It is recognized that a person’s life
context shapes how one develops—altering one’s
life context alters one’s course of development (Luthans &
Avolio, 2003). Further, each person interprets and as-
signs significance of meaning to different events, which
in turn become a lens through which we view the world
around us (Avolio, 2005). These are what Gadamer,
Weinsheimer, and Marshall (2004) called prejudices:
points of view that define our immediate horizon of un-
derstanding. Self-awareness, or learning to identify and
understand one’s own worldview, becomes a cornerstone
of leadership, for a leader’s worldview impacts an or-
ganization and those that operate within it. From the
perspective of leaders as change agents, this becomes
particularly important. Leaders assist others in creating
and making sense of their experience and in so doing
“reconstruct reality” and “recompose truths” (Drath,
2001, pp. 144, 147).

How Robust Is the Idea of
“Worldviews”?
As scholars begin to incorporate the idea of worldviews
in leadership study, some may ask whether the concept
itself is sufficiently robust at this point for leadership study.
Setting aside for the time being the particular content of a
worldview, as well as the degree of one’s commitment to a

The Concept of Worldviews in
Leadership Studies
Multiple ways of knowing and cross-cultural literacy are
goals of leadership. As such, leadership study requires
broad awareness in order to build bridges of understand-
ing. It necessitates worldview literacy and the ability to
communicate in plural and diverse settings. Essentially,
it encourages awareness of one’s own view or vision of
life as a means to better engage with others. Awareness
of diverse views or perspectives is necessary so people
can engage in common cause in a multifaceted world
(Drath, 2001).

Worldview is a concept that requires an interdiscipli-
nary, multidisciplinary, and perhaps even transdiscipli-
nary approach to fully understand its tenets and
application. It is overtly and robustly defined in certain
disciplinary areas—religious studies, philosophy, and
anthropology—but is only slowly surfacing in leader-
ship study (Crumpton, 2010). Here, it is used with lim-
ited clarity and consensus, with only some semblance
and points of agreement.

Lack of worldview definitional clarity and precision
within leadership study should not be surprising given
that leadership study has undergone significant para-
digm shifts. Leadership study emerged within the con-
text of modernity and its emphasis on objective
rationality. But it came to be influenced by postmoder-
nity and its emphasis on multiple ways of knowing,
and language and knowledge construction. Today,
much of leadership study embraces what is often re-
ferred to as glocalism, an emphasis on thinking glob-
ally and acting locally (Antonakis, Cianciolo, &
Sternberg, 2004; Burke, 2008; Northouse, 2010;
Schwandt & Szabla, 2007). Leadership study recog-
nizes that increasing cultural and racial diversity have
been brought on by globalism. Further, technology has
opened the door for alternative ways of viewing the
world and the necessity of new leadership practices
such as global or cross-cultural leadership and intercul-
tural communication (Chhokar, Brodbeck, & House,
2009; Rondinelli & Heffron, 2009). As such, the im-
portance of exploring similarities and differences be-
tween worldviews has surfaced. With it comes fostering
self-awareness (what is my worldview?) and the under-
standing of others (what is another person’s worldview?),

56 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls

Knowledge of words spoken does not automatically
imply understanding; that they make sense to someone
else. Our powers of comprehension or even inference
are not infallible.

A worldview is also dynamic—it changes over time.
Jaspers characterized “the construction of worldviews
as a continuous, lifelong process stimulated by the ex-
perience of disturbance” (cited in Webb, 2009, p. 15).
What one believes and values today can be quite differ-
ent tomorrow. Measuring something that does not hold
still is difficult (Aerts et al., 2007). Kegan refers to these
as “a succession of holding environments” (cited in
Webb, 2009, p. 50). Aerts et al. (2007) maintain that
any worldview is “fragile” (p. 10). Broekaert (1999) em-
ploys the more optimistic term openness—every world-
view is open to revision or even replacement.
Worldviews are dynamic; they can evolve (Vidal, 2007).
Webb (2009) credited Jaspers with insisting that a
worldview is indefinite and fluid, a work in progress.

Woodrow Wilson (1952) wrote about leadership
as an academic administrator. But did the same thoughts
and attitudes prevail in his mind later during his years in
public office? We know certain leaders change their
views because they attest to that change and lead dif-
ferently thereafter as a result. In other situations, of
course, the change might be subtle or even unconscious.
But do changes in some of the views one holds entail a
wholesale change in the worldview one holds?

Many people today are unaware of or have doubts
about their own worldviews. Sociologists refer to this
as anomie, based on the Latin, “being without coherent
wholeness” (Webb, 2009, p. 1). Some seem not to care
whether or not they have a worldview. Noonan (1990)
alleges that U.S. President Ronald Reagan was quite
oblivious to his own worldview. Henry Adams (1999)
said much the same thing about President Ulysses
Grant. Neither man was known for being particularly
introspective. Yet each president in his own way was a
leader. Is awareness of one’s own worldview, therefore,
a precondition for leadership?

It can, nonetheless, be argued that everyone has a
worldview of some sort ( Webb, 2009). Worldviews are
socially constructed over time (Vidal, 2007). The com-
munities to which people belong—religious, social, ed-
ucational, and political—influence what they espouse
(Smith, 2003; Wacquant, 2006). Yet, just as no two

given worldview, a question remains as to whether the
very idea of discussing or incorporating “worldviews” en-
hances leadership study (Webb, 2009). An investigation
into worldviews might begin with an epistemic question
regarding the detection and examination of a worldview.
Can one infer the presence of worldviews? If so, what
can be inferred based on the evidence?

Laing (1967) concluded that the study of the experi-
ences of others will indeed be based on inferences since
no one has direct access to the minds of others. Never-
theless, in ordinary experience, people do believe there
is something there, which suggests there is something
there to interpret. People seem to have reasons for what
they do, even if those reasons turn out to be difficult to
establish. Reasons for action are linked to worldviews.

Dennett (2005) impugns folk psychology, wonder-
ing how anyone can know what somebody else might be
thinking—or whether they are thinking at all. He main-
tains that it is next to impossible to really know some-
one else’s worldview. Even if one does claim to have a
worldview, he or she may well be mistaken as to its
structure and content. He or she may also not neces-
sarily act in light of it.

Dennett’s claims notwithstanding, perhaps most ob-
vious to the notion that a person has a worldview is
what he or she might say about it. Friedrich Nietzsche
(1887/1956), among others, speculated that humans
give reasons for their behavior not because those rea-
sons did in fact lead to particular decisions, but because
of the desire to rationalize behavior after the fact. Do
people admit to a worldview to avoid the truth about a
basis for action they would prefer to disguise or dis-
avow? Might avowals of a worldview be evasions or ra-
tionalizations, disguising what really goes on in the
human mind? Nietzsche was quite suspicious of peo-
ple’s testimony. In fact, Lansky once referred to the
“doubting of surface rationalization that so dramatically
characterizes virtually all of Nietzsche’s work” (1999,
p. 179). The suspicion is that reference to one’s world-
view might be a smokescreen of self-justification,
whether conscious or unconscious. In other words, as-
suming to know someone’s worldview based solely on
what is reported about it can be problematic.

Language itself can be a barrier to effective understand-
ing of the worldviews of others (Aerts et al., 2007). This
holds even when two people speak the same language.

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increasingly elaborate and complex—arguably exceeding
any one individual’s powers of explanation. Understand-
ing worldview complexity becomes another challenge for
leadership study (Aerts et al., 2007; Webb, 2009).

There may be more challenges. What role, for in-
stance, do factors such as lust, pride, or greed play in
determining worldviews? We know they can play a
formative role in leadership action, but how constitutive
are they in determining beliefs and values? Do they con-
tribute to worldview incoherence, or even worldview
schizophrenia, potentially creating discrepancies be-
tween espoused belief and concrete action? These factors
may be internal to the individual but nonetheless in-
fluence and shape external behavior.

Worldviews and Their Implications
for Leadership
It was the Cheshire Cat in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Won-
derland who said, “If you don’t know where you are
going, any road will get you there.” To rephrase only
slightly, if you do not know your own beliefs and values,
any will do, as will any road or virtual highway. But
thoughtful minds are more discerning. A Lutheran
“Here I stand” or a Gandhian “Be the change that you
want to see in the world” requires careful reflection in
order to achieve the world we need or want, for the
world we need or want is crucially linked to our world-
view—our beliefs and values. Leadership for action re-
quires reflection on our worldviews.

In light of the challenges posed in regard to use of
the concept of worldview in leadership study, world-
view development, or “know thyself ” as the Oracle of
Delphi decreed, is crucial for studying the past, assess-
ing the present, and planning for the future. Worldview
development, however, must also be linked to compar-
ative religionist Max Muller’s dictum, “He who knows
one, knows none”: knowledge of one’s own worldview
cannot be accomplished without some knowledge of
those of others (cited in Sharpe, 1975, p. 36).

G. K. Chesterton argued that “the most practical and
important thing about a man is his view of the universe”
(1986, p. 41). According to Parks (1991), humans have
an inherent desire to make sense of their universe: we are
meaning-makers. We need and desperately want to make
sense of our world: to compose/dwell in some conviction

people are the same, so no two worldviews are the same.
No matter how thick the spirit of homonoia or like-
mindedness, there will always be at least some variation
(Webb, 2009). Further, worldviews are not ascribed ex-
clusively to individuals; a community can also be de-
fined by a particular worldview (Aerts et al., 2007;
Webb, 2009). Thus, one can speak of a collective world-
view influencing individual worldviews and that indi-
vidual worldviews can also influence a collective
worldview.

In all of this, worldviews require interpretation. Here,
two challenges present themselves. First, any interpreta-
tion of a worldview will be filtered through the world-
view of the interpreter (Klüver, 1926). An investigator
must recognize and take into account that he or she,
too, has a worldview. That worldview serves as a lens or
framework through which the worldview of another is
interpreted and described. The existence, character, and
content of one’s own worldview do not imply anything
similar in regard to that of another person. One is ill
advised to jump too quickly from the content of one’s
own mind to inferences about the content of another.

Second, worldviews can often be fundamentally inco-
herent, inconsistent, and unclear (Aerts et al., 2007).
They may be tattered, makeshift constructs that make
some sense of daily life, but may also be little more than
evolutionary truces or temporary versions of an adopted
worldview, as Kegan (1982) inferred. Worldviews may
be partial—comprised of bits and pieces that lack ap-
parent connection. They may be filled with unresolved
contradictions and may change over time. A person’s
worldview may resemble a patchwork of evolving sub-
worldviews and not something coherent and complete,
a notion consistent with the pluralistic imagery es-
poused by James (1909/1996).

Yet, any concept is an abstraction from lived reality
and certain features will be included and others ex-
cluded. No worldview is so elaborate as the reality it at-
tempts to depict. That is impossible, and misses the
point of worldview construction ( Whitehead, 1938,
1951). Worldviews, however articulate or inarticulate,
coherent or incoherent, complete or incomplete, are ab-
stractions of the world in which we live. But worldview
development is the very act of overcoming inarticulate-
ness, incoherence, and incompleteness (McKenzie,
1991). What is constructed will invariably become

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academic disciplines attempt to understand, identify,
and describe larger patterns of thinking and/or acting,
frequently employing the term worldview in the process
(Foltz, 2003; Kriger & Seng, 2005; Sire, 2004).

These larger patterns of thinking or worldviews come
with totalizing narratives: assertions or explanations of
“the way the world is” as seen from a particular perspec-
tive. But all perspectives require interpretation, for real-
ity and a particular view of it are not synonymous. No
one stands at the mountaintop. For this reason, our
worldview is necessarily a “leap of faith” about the na-
ture of reality, which requires at minimum a small meas-
ure of humility and a great deal of interpretation.

Perhaps it has been the reluctance to distinguish real-
ity from its interpretations that has led postmodernism
to reject the totalizing or meta-narratives often implied
or assumed in worldviews, arguing that these narratives,
if not the worldviews themselves, need to be decon-
structed for what they really are—struggles for power,
control, and domination. History is replete with such
worldview struggles, and the current era is no different.
Yet, it would be an oversimplification to assert that all
attempts to understand one’s own worldview or those of
others automatically translate into struggles for or pre-
sumptions of moral, religious, cultural, and economic
superiority. In leadership studies a genuine desire to un-
derstand “the other,” in order to better know the self,
might be more appropriate as we come increasingly to
recognize ourselves as citizens of a global world.

Reflection on our visions of life and our ways of life—
on what we believe and value and why, and the partic-
ular kinds of directives and actions that result from
them—is important in the academic training of lead-
ers, especially when postmodern fears of distinguishing
differences will lead to pursuits of power, attitudes of
superiority, or false notions of what is real and true.
That became apparent in issues surfacing at the 1993
World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago. Ingham
(1997) mentions that leading scientists stated, in a sur-
prising turn of events, that solutions to the world’s
biggest challenges lay not in more political action, better
technology, or increased economic initiatives. Solutions,
they argued, lay rather in guidance from some of the
world’s most respected spiritual leaders. Tapping into
the wisdom of the past, understanding its relevance
for the present, and allowing it to guide us into the

of what is ultimately true (Peterson, 2001). In the
process, we create things, ideas, stories, and experiences
that speak to some of the deepest realities of our lives.
The result is “worldview construction”—creating mean-
ing in a world that can appear confusing and meaning-
less (McKenzie, 1991; Naugle, 2002). Worldviews are
thus meaningful visions of life.

Worldviews are also ways of life. Everyone has a con-
scious or subconscious way of acting and behaving in
the world based on particular beliefs and values. These
may be known, articulated, or discerned by individu-
als or groups to greater or lesser degrees. Achieving con-
sistency and congruency in our visions and ways of life
is challenging: We all readily profess one thing and do
another. Beliefs can be loosely adhered to, incompatible,
or in tension, leading to inconsistent or contradictory
action: “talking our walk” does not always match “walk-
ing our talk” (Olsen et al., 1992; Olthuis, 1985). This
may readily reflect human weakness but does not erode
the need to be anchored in some coherent sense of the
reality we experience.

The reality that we experience does, of course,
change. As our reality changes, so does our understand-
ing of ourselves, others, and the world we inhabit. In
some cases, our worldview changes dramatically but
more often than not it is aspects of our worldview that
are expanded and deepened. Core philosophical, onto-
logical, or epistemological aspects are seldom discarded
or abandoned. Further, giving articulation to our world-
views is not easy. Often, philosophers, theologians, or
poets express what others may only feel or believe in-
tuitively. As such, they become spokespersons, leaders,
or individuals of great influence, of which Socrates,
Martin Luther King Jr., or Vaclav Havel are but a few
examples.

When we hear and read of perceptions of the world
expressed by persons of great influence, or even others,
we come to recognize that those perceptions or perspec-
tives can be considerably different. The worldview per-
spectives of a Richard Dawkins, Donald Trump, or Karl
Marx, for example, differ radically from those of a
Desmond Tutu, Chief Seattle, or the Dalai Lama: They
are simply not the same and we know it. We also see
them played out. We come to know that Capitalism,
Communism, and Confucianism differ from one
another both as visions of life and ways of life. Various

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future may greatly assist us in overcoming our greatest
challenges. It has been noted, sadly, however, that the
depths of wisdom offered by many of the world’s tra-
ditional religious worldviews, each accustomed to ask-
ing life’s so-called “ultimate or existential questions,”
are accessed by only a very small percentage of leaders
today (Valk et al., 2010).

Asking these big questions in regard to business devel-
opments, political action, international relations, and
concern for the environment might well, however, lead
to some startling discussions and revelations. Incorpo-
rating worldview study into leadership study might, for
example, change our notions and understandings of
wealth and wealth creation. The capitalistic drive to gen-
erate wealth might lead from a narrow focus on maxi-
mizing profit to a broader one that includes living wages
for workers, healthy families, and sustainable environ-
ments. Engaging multiple perspectives or worldviews
can enhance dialogue as debates of intense public in-
terest play out in the public square.

It is also in engaging multiple perspectives in the pub-
lic square that we need to increase our critical aware-
ness of the different perspectives that are part of our
plural society. Fixating on “Christianity lite” or “Bud-
dhism lite” renders only dumbed-down and distorted
versions crafted for media sound bites or scoring points
in public debates. In-depth leadership study must avoid
cheapened versions, opting rather to plumb the depths
of various perspectives to extract wisdom so desperately
needed in our society today.

Critical awareness is also required to achieve balance.
Careful scrutiny is needed in discerning when, for ex-
ample, consumer capitalism’s desire to generate wealth
throughout the world digresses to little more than a
dominant strategy to increase world market share and
seek cheap labor in order to maximize profits (Wexler,
2006), or when religious worldviews focused exclusively
on the spiritual neglect the impoverished reality of their
devotees. Open dialogue and discernment involving
multiple perspectives will assist in distinguishing true
human needs and longings from those that are con-
trived, truncated, and insatiable. Discussions also should
not be confined to national boundaries or single disci-
plines: economic issues are at the same time environ-
mental, cultural, spiritual, religious, scientific, and
political.

As we deal with the challenges of the 21st century,
clearer senses of purpose and direction are required—in
essence, clearer visions linked to specific actions. Inves-
tigating the bigger pictures—worldviews of self and
others—will give guidance and direction to leaders in
new or unique ways. We live in a global world. Chal-
lenges and issues confronted by one organization, re-
gion, or nation invariably become global challenges and
issues. Just as leadership must extend beyond the narrow
confines of one’s own organization, it must also extend
beyond the narrow confines of one’s own perspective.
As well, it must dissuade giving prominent voice to
those with worldviews that dominate and distort, dis-
tain and detract, impede and restrict. Rather, opportu-
nities ought to be created for those with visions that
strive for balance, have concern for the common good,
are understanding of others, and discern paths needed
to create the world we truly need or want. This becomes
most relevant as dynamics unfold at a larger national
and international scale. Those dynamics are beginning
to shape individual and collective worldviews in ways
not previously experienced, and the changes are impact-
ing some generations more than others.

Worldviews and Generational
Change
Winston Churchill once said that “the longer you can
look back, the farther you can look forward” (Langworth,
2008, p. 577). Amidst the current global economic cri-
sis there is a need to examine and learn from the past
mistakes of the global consumer capitalist worldview in
order not to perpetuate those mistakes in the future. Ig-
noring the past and looking only to the future may be
a human tendency, but it is fraught with shortsighted-
ness. Can a people, nation, or organization truly move
forward without continually examining its presupposi-
tions and paradigms?

According to Strauss and Howe (1991, 1997) and
Howe and Nadler (2010), we are living in a period of
“civic crisis.” The West is confronted with environmen-
tal devastation, economic downturns, social upheavals,
housing crises, civic unrest, and political polarization
in a manner not seen for some time. While most of this
turmoil is not new on the human stage, what is new
is the extent of its reach in the information age. Crises

60 JOURNAL OF LEADERSHIP STUDIES • Volume 5 • Number 2 • DOI:10.1002/jls

networking occurring across cultural, national, and
worldview divides on a scale never witnessed before.
Fourth, family is again seen as the ultimate safety net,
largely out of economic necessity in light of a weaken-
ing or collapsing of public support mechanisms. Rela-
tionships of intergenerational trust are emphasized and
strengthened, with less focus on materialism and money as
primary drivers. Finally, diversification, which nets knowl-
edge and fluency in languages, cultures, and technology,
is stressed. A generalist with survival skills may have an
edge over specialists with focused skills (Strauss & Howe,
1997).

Strauss and Howe (1997) make the case that the
worldviews of Millennials are more globally focused, a
shift from the individual to the community. Social net-
working takes them outside national borders to the
global stage, where technology provides open channels
for communication and information sharing to all parts
of the world. They exhibit a common willingness to col-
laborate among all nationalities, working together to
help solve societies problems in ways that will benefit
all (Bradley, 2010; Hernandez, 2008; Howe & Strauss,
2007).

Franklin Roosevelt once remarked that the objectives
of his generation of young people had changed away
from “a plethora of riches” to one of a “sufficiency of
life”—an advancement “along a broad highway on
which thousands of your fellow men and women are
advancing with you” (Roosevelt & Hardman, 1944,
p. 243). For the Millennials, this highway is the virtual
one, the World Wide Web that has facilitated commu-
nication in real time across the globe. Its ability to reach
the far corners of our world has seen a transformation
that bodes well for the Millennials as they spread their
community-based leadership and action across our
world, in essence, as they spread their worldview.

Conclusion
There is an extensive if not diverse use of the concept of
worldview in scholarly literature. That use has also
slowly begun to emerge in the leadership literature. The
need to link this literature and get beneath the casual
uses of the concept becomes paramount. The forego-
ing begins a process of laying out the parameters neces-
sary to link worldviews and leadership in a scholarly
manner.

played out on the world stage are today visible in our
very living rooms. But according to Strauss and Howe,
they impact different generations in different ways.
They have formative influence on the worldview devel-
opment of younger generations and increasingly so.

Generational scholars have characterized the large
postwar Baby Boom generation as predominantly self-
focused—inward-looking to fulfill individual needs
(Dychtwald, 2005; Howe & Nadler, 2010; Strauss &
Howe, 1991, 1997). The Baby Boom generation has
been privileged with tremendous social mobility, eco-
nomic growth, political liberty, and individual freedom
of the last half-century. But they have also witnessed
environmental …

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