Leadership Values: Fuel for Purpose
Chad’s family is moving to a city approximately 200 kms from his current one. The draw is a prestigious school of the arts at the other end of the interstate. Chad’s youngest child is an emerging piano prodigy; the opportunities in this new city will help the pianist raise her skills to the next level. Chad’s older child is stoked about the soccer clubs in the new area. Chad’s partner can’t wait to sample the acclaimed craft beer scene. What about work? Chad’s employer, who runs a topflight marketing firm, has given her star graphic artist the bandwidth to work remotely. Interestingly, Chad isn’t the only recipient of the star treatment. Everyone who works in the firm knows that their leader values the health, growth, and contributions of all her employees. Because these values shape all the decisions made by the senior executives, almost everyone in the organization demonstrates a deep commitment to the organization’s purpose and vision.
I spend a significant portion of my time with executives focused on how to advance in the value continuum of people over process. If you’re not sure where you land on this continuum, ask the members of your team. If we want the people who work for us to arrive committed and remain committed to organizational purpose, then our leadership values and our empathy towards our team – must nourish this commitment. Giving employees the flexibility to work remotely or in a hybrid fashion? That feeds commitment. Recognizing good work through praise and incentives? That feeds commitment. Giving the team flexibility to steer beyond their lanes when they have great ideas to share? That feeds commitment too. Your values are on display with every policy you craft, every hire you make, every crisis you manage, and every tactical decision you enact. Bottom line? One of the best things you can do to enhance your leadership acumen, strengthen your team, and forward your brand is to identify, clarify, and embody values that inspire commitment.
Leadership values can be explicit or implicit. I know many great leaders who summarize and articulate their values with a couple of bullet point statements that are widely disseminated through the organization. If you already practice the explicit approach, make sure what you write is consistent with how you act. If you “value” diversity and inclusivity, but consistently fill the management slots with people who look, speak, and live just like you, prepare to be called a hypocrite. Nothing will demoralize a team faster than having a leader who doesn’t follow the values they say are essential to the organization.
Many of us prefer the implicit approach to value development and articulation, meaning we prefer to model our values instead of just writing or talking about them. The problem with the implicit approach is that no one really knows which values are at the core of an organization’s identity. While you may see yourself as a model of collaboration, improvisation, and understanding – expecting your team to do likewise – your implicit values may model something quite different. Worse, in the absence of clearly articulated values, the implicit stuff may fluctuate depending on internal and external forces impacting the organization. What may have been valued last week, may be devalued next week.
Leadership’s values can nourish commitment. Be clear about what you value. Make sure your values align with the organization’s purpose and vision. Encourage feedback from your team. In today’s environment, articulate, disseminate, and model values that elevate people and humanity.