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Values-Based Leadership

April 9, 2015
Borderless Leadership

Define what your brand stands for, its core values and tone of voice, and then communicate consistently in those terms.
Simon Mainwaring

Every organization struggles with a common challenge: to what level does my organization infuse its core values into our mission and daily actions? There are no organizations that is free from continually having to focus on this area of institutional health.  How many times do we see companies release less than accurate reports in order to hide a devaluation?  Even non-profits find themselves debating who they will take donations from and whether that money is in line with their values.  All organizations must continually take into account the challenge and even the conflict that exists between mission accomplishment and the values by which the organization attempts to live.  Just having a set or list of core values does not mean that those core values are actually infused into the actions of the company.  Instead, every organization must deliberately ensure their core values are part of everything the company does.  To this end, the single most important attribute and responsibility for a leader is to establish and set the expectation of value-based operations.

Aligning Values

Every organization is responsible for determining how much their institutional values will drive what they do in terms of mission accomplishment.  If I am a leader within an organization, my values must lineup with the values of the company or there will likely be a troubling disconnect.  The health of an institution is often measured by its ability to remain committed and loyal to its predetermined standards and values.  In the practice of law, there are standards to which all attorneys are expected to adhere and if one gets too far outside of those standards one risks being disbarred.  In the medical profession, one must remain committed to standards of practice that are very clear.  If a medical professional gets too far outside of those acceptable practices, he or she risks losing their license to practice.  The same can be said about religious organizations.  Within a denomination, leaders are expected to adhere to a set of institutional standards, or values, and any consistent departure from those values would likely result in dismissal.  In every profession, there is a need and a requirement for leaders to adhere to the institutional expectations of what the company values.

“It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that the solutions developed and the directions the company takes are based and grounded in predetermined organizational values.”

Organizational values outline not just what we do, but how we do it.  In many cases, even well intended leaders can find themselves discounting personal or professional values to support mission accomplishment.  Leaders are routinely confronted and challenged by values based decisions such as backroom deals, brother-in-law hires, or less than truthful reports in order to cover poor performance.  We may want to think that we are wired to do the right thing, but unless we practice a routine of self-reflection and personal accountability, unprofessional activates can insidiously work themselves into our daily operations.  Value based decisions within our mission routines are not anomalies, this is more common and more a part of what all leaders struggle with than is often understood.  Everyday leaders are confronted with ethical dilemmas, value judgments, and character related decisions.  Without a deliberate and targeted understanding of the part that values-based decisions must play within an institution, one’s actions risk being absent of required values.  When operations are developed without leadership’s deliberate consideration of organizational values, the potential for significant problems and even illegal conduct increases.

Setting Values Standards

Leaders are responsible for setting the expectations and the standards with regard to organizational values.  I recommend a deliberate set of questions that all leaders ask themselves and their teams as they move forward and build new processes and solutions.

  • Do I/we feel the need to hide these actions from others?
  • Is this action something that could be printed in the company newsletter?
  • Are there organizational values that this action would require me/us to overlook?

Taking the time to ask these simple questions can help leaders frame their solutions within the values required from their profession.  If leaders consistently ask these questions about their own thinking, the results are noticed by subordinates.  If leaders are willing to openly ask these questions in staff meetings or planning sessions, a professional environment is established by the leader across the organization—one that makes clear the expectation of values-based processes.  Without a deliberate plan to make values a part of the planning process, one can expect that standards and values may be bypassed, rationalized away, or ignored altogether.  Unless leaders see value-based expectations as a requirement for all developing programs and solutions, and deliberately infuse values-based expectations into the planning phase, outcomes may take directions that result in processes well outside of acceptable standards.  It is the responsibility of the leader to ensure that the solutions developed and the directions the company takes are based and grounded in predetermined organizational values. The next time you are confronted with leading a process or solution, start by asking yourself and others what part values are playing in the process—there is no better way to lead your organization.

By Jeffrey Smith

Source: General Leadership

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