Value Conflicts put Leaders under Stress

The Wertekommission – Initiative Werte Bewusste Führung e.V. has published the latest results of its leadership survey. The study focuses on the values of managers in leadership roles in Germany.

As in previous years, the management survey is supported by the TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning and scientifically monitored by the Chair of Research and Science Management at TUM. The result of this year’s study: managers are very often confronted with ethically or morally challenging situations. This serves as a source of stress for many.

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Value conflicts are part of daily life

For the vast majority of managerial leaders in Germany, value conflicts are part of everyday life. In this year’s management survey by the Wertekommission, approximately one third of  managers stated that they experience ethically or morally challenging situations on a frequent to almost daily basis. A further third of respondents stated that they were occasionally confronted with value conflicts.

88 percent of the leaders surveyed stated that they perceive value conflicts as a burden and experience stress in these situations. One in seven managers (15.7 percent) even stated that they experienced stress very frequently or daily due to value conflicts. There is a close correlation with the frequency of perceived value conflicts: the more often managers experienced ethically or morally challenging situations, the more stress they felt.

The three most common situations for value conflicts among executive professionals

The survey groups typical situations for value conflicts into ten categories, of which the three most common are as follows:

1 – Managers most frequently mentioned dealing with the underperformance of their team members: Here, they see themselves in conflict of having to point out deficits to their employees, while at the same time being well intentioned  and motivating.

2 – The second most frequently described situations were those in which managers find themselves sandwiched between their superiors on the one hand and their team members on the other. In this situation, managers are confronted with expectations from both sides.

3 – The third most frequently mentioned value conflict  concerns balancing the interests of external groups and the interests of one’s own company, e.g. in price negotiations.

Trust, responsibility, respect – ranking of core values remains stable

The following values were ranked highest among managers: trust (33 percent), responsibility (26 percent) and respect (20 percent). These are followed by integrity (14 percent), sustainability (4 percent) and courage (3 percent). “In a five-year trend, this ranking has remained stable since 2020 when integrity and respect changed positions,” says Sven H. Korndörffer, Chairman of the Values Commission. “And once again, there were only comparatively minor changes in the assessment of the individual core values. This speaks to a strong understanding of values among corporate leaders in Germany.”

With regard to the value of sustainability, Prof. Dr. Ludger Heidbrink, Member of the Board of the Values Commission, states: “It is remarkable that the value of sustainability has not changed in the ranking. This is because over 40 percent of leaders stated that sustainability had become more important to them personally. However, many of the leaders we surveyed also indicated that the concept of sustainability is used superficially and that it is not associated with any significant change in the way their companies do business.

Moral courage among executive leaders

In this year’s management survey, the moral courage of managers in Germany was one of several new topics assessed. To this end, they were asked to evaluate statements on various facets of moral courage.

The results show that approximately 70 percent of those interviewed often or nearly always act with moral courage. However, moral courage decreases especially when the manager’s behavior results in an unpleasant situation with their superior. In such situations, loyalty and obligation to the superior often outweigh the courage to stand up for ethical behavior.

About the survey and the Values Commission

The Wertekommission – Initiative Werte Bewusste Führung e.V. (Values Commission – the Initiative Values associated with Mindful Leadership) was founded in 2005. It is an initiative for managerial leaders in Germany and has the goal of creating awareness across all hierarchies that values create value. This year, 441 managers from the German economy took part in the annual management survey conducted by the Wertekommission since 2006, around 17 percent of whom were from top management, 55 percent from middle management and 28 percent from lower management. They were surveyed online from July 5 to 25, 2023.

The leadership survey was again designed, conducted and analyzed in 2023 in collaboration with the Chair of Research and Science Management at the TUM School of Management and the TUM Institute for LifeLong Learning at the Technical University of Munich.

The complete evaluation of the 2023 survey and further information about the Initiative Wertekommission can be found at


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