The power of living and leading in accordance with our values is extraordinary.
Values are an essential foundation for our quality of life and leadership. When we take time to discover our core values and have the courage to honor and fight for them, our lives are richer and our contributions deeper.
How to do so? Begin by asking probing questions:
What are my convictions about what is good and worthy?
What do I believe in?
What will I fight for in my life and work?
Answering these questions helps you clarify your personal values. Without knowing your values, how can you live and lead by them?
For an example of the power of values in practice, take integrity, a common personal and organizational value. Many view it—properly, in our view—as an essential foundation for quality living and leading.
Why? We are all tested in life and work. How do we react when pressure is on? Do we take the easy way out? Many do, subsequently rationalizing the behavior. A life built on integrity as a core value in practice draws good people as allies, building respect and trust along the way. It sometimes has short-term costs, but pays long-term dividends.
“Integrity goes far beyond telling the truth.
Integrity means total congruence between who we are and what we do.”
-Kevin Cashman in Leadership from the Inside Out
Without integrity, we believe, life is a pale shadow of what it could be. Without integrity, leadership buckles at the knees. People don’t trust leaders without integrity, so they withhold their commitment. Compliance may follow, but little else.
Challenges and Consequences
Living and leading by our values sounds easier than it is in practice, since people commonly encounter pressures, temptations, conflicting values, and moral dilemmas. Too many people today work in organizations that fail to live up to their values and aspirations. Too many leaders and workers sell out, take the easy way out, and get caught up in the game.
We see it in the daily headlines with new organizational scandals coming fast and furious through the news cycle, and we gradually become numb to it, explaining it away: “That’s life.” “Business is business.” “Power corrupts.”
Such scandals and their accompanying rationalizations take a toll. Their effects compound over time into a de facto lowering of standards. Will that be our legacy?
The world needs a better brand of leadership, leadership built on and powered by inspiring core values. That charge begins with us.
Perfection is not the standard. We all make mistakes. The question is, what do we do to learn from them and make them right?
1. What are your core values? Have you written them down? (If not, you may want to begin with our Values Exercise.
2. Are you leading and living by your values? What changes do you need to make?
3. Does your organization have a clear set of values? Are they platitudes or actually practiced and defended throughout the enterprise?
Bob and Gregg Vanourek are co-authors of Triple Crown Leadership: Building Excellent, Ethical, and Enduring Organizations (a winner of the International Book Awards), based on interviews with 61 organizations in 11 countries.