Value-Based Leadership

In an age of social-distancing measures and widespread social media, we are all paradoxically closer and further apart than ever before. For a large organisation to truly reach its employees and its customers, it must be driven by authentic values.

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Phil Rose, co-founder and director of Ignium, outlines the need for authentic action in achieving meaningful leadership.

We’ve all seen it, we’re perhaps even guilty of it ourselves – producing beautiful, shiny corporate brochures where we neatly lay out the purpose of our businesses and try to give a sense of our culture. These great tomes of pictures and words attempt to tell our customers, prospects, current and future employees what our companies are all about, or what we aspire them to be. But in these times of turmoil and uncertainty, I hate to point it out, but no one’s interested in the gloss. Never before have actions spoken louder than words.

Your purpose, culture and values will now be scrutinised more than ever before. One critical aspect of that is  how you engage your staff and step up as a leader. Your greatest asset, your organisation’s future, is your people. People who, at all levels in the organisation, are currently in the main working from home. Many are working in new, makeshift offices, sitting at their kitchen table. And all too many of us are experiencing the stresses of juggling our work and home lives in the same space. Whether your people are fortunate enough to have gained back some time due to the lack of commuting or whether they’re battling for more hours in the day as they wrestle their own deadlines and home schooling this is where the mind boggles and emotions increase.

It’s at times like these that people stop and think about where they are, where they are going and why they are doing what they do. In his 1998 book, “Working with Emotional Intelligence” (Goleman, 1998), Daniel Goleman quotes a top CEO as saying, “You have to force yourself to find some time away from the hustle and bustle of your job in order to get down to reality again.” Our reality is now a whole lot different to a few months ago and, as such, many of us have started to reflect and reconsider many things in our lives.

Your purpose, culture and values will now be scrutinised more than ever before.

In business we all live by our values, even if we have not openly examined them. Many people choose to work for businesses because they mean something to them. That’s why businesses with a solid purpose at their very core do best in the long run. As Daniel Goleman explains further, “Except for the financially desperate, people do not work for money alone. What also fuels their passion for work is a larger sense of purpose or passion.

However, in moments of stress our sense of purpose can be tested, especially when the world around us is in a state of uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity that many of us have never experienced before. When times are tough people often fall back on their core values, the things that remain true to them wherever they are and whatever they are doing. Those shared values espoused by the corporate brochure or in the culture presentation are truly tested to their limits. And this is where our real, human values shine through.

Our values give us a sense of an internal compass and this sense is deeply rooted, sitting in an ancient area of the brain called the amygdala. It is this ‘knowing’ that gives rise to our sense of ‘gut feel’ when we know something is right or wrong. It’s where our emotional reactions originate.

So, when leaders talk of being purpose or values led our true internal compass will give us a sense of their congruence, or not. At times when people need clear leadership we must fall back on our own true values. As business leaders we must ensure our values are in alignment with those of the organisation, so that our message remains consistent. Any mismatch will be apparent, and all credibility will be lost.

I’ve previously talked about resilience and the importance of self-awareness and trust. It is self-awareness specifically related to values that is key at time like this as it links to authenticity. Lack of an authentic belief in the values of your organisation will lead to a lack of trust. Your people will sense it at that very deep-rooted level and quickly pick up on any inconsistencies.

In a values-based, or purpose-led organisation the leaders fully ‘buy into’ and live the values and purpose. That is what enables them to fully energise and guide themselves and influence their employees. As this pandemic continues, we are sure to be tested further and need to dig deep. Your culture, the talent of your people and the behaviours that underpin that talent are the very foundation of the ‘value’ of your business. Nurture that culture and strive for positive engagement from your team. But be aware that only comes when we are truly aligned with who we are and what we believe in. That is true values-based leadership.

Here’s eight ways to help you and your organisation create and be true to your values:

  1. Discuss Values – be clear on the reason why values are important for you and your organisation. Values-driven organisations are the most successful because they care about the needs of their people.
  2. Find your own values – determine your own personal values. It takes time and effort but the key is to be open and honest with yourself.
  3. Identify and agree the values of your organisation – if you haven’t already it’s worth spending time with your colleagues getting clarity and limit the number of values you have to around three. That way it’s easier to remember and follow.
  4. Seek clarity on your desired behaviours – values are useful as a ‘compass’ to guide but to be even more valuable it is important that you are also clear on the behaviours that underpin those values. Values are worthless if you can’t identify good or bad examples of the associated behaviours.
  5. Question your thoughts and actions – watch for your language and actions and ask yourself of every thought and action, ‘is this in line with who I am at heart?’ Do your values align with the organisation you work with and for? If not, then now might be a good time to understand why and then decide what you want to do about the mismatch.
  6. Involve your team – in our experience once you are clear on your values you and your team can make clear decisions from a deep-rooted place of knowing. Be aware of people paying ‘lip service’ to those values. In business, government, and society a mismatch in values will generate tension and that can have disastrous effects in the long term.
  7. Check on your own ‘happiness levels’ – it could be that you are out of alignment with your own values and that there is a mismatch between your thinking, talking and doing.
  8. Purpose alignment – remember ‘resistance is created through a lack of clarity’. So, if you and your business are not achieving what you need then it is possible there is a lack of alignment.

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