How does a leader put values into action? What questions does a leader need to ask himself or herself to clarify what is needed to lead by, with, and through values? Here are six common sense leadership strategies to consider, adapted from the book Leading with Values by Bud Bilanich (2004):
1. Know your values: Develop a personal understanding of your organization’s values. Think about what the company’s values really mean to you and to your unique leadership style. You need to know which of your behaviors demonstrate those values.
If the business’ beliefs and principles don’t have meaning for you, you won’t be able to make them meaningful for anyone else. You must examine your own personal set of values and see how they mesh with the organization’s. In some cases they won’t. Very few people see their own personal set of values in terms of things like customer service or teamwork. However, the personal value of respecting others does fit in with these organizational values.
It is critical to make sure that shared values translate into behaved values. Study your organization’s values and determine how they apply to you and to the people you lead. Make sure that organizational and personal values are in sync with one another.
2. Walk your talk: Show people what the organizational values mean through your behaviors. People learn by observing their leaders. You must walk your talk. Bringing values to life is a behavioral issue. You are a role model for your people. Your values show up in four behaviors:
- How you spend your time
- Where you go
- What you say d. How you deal with problems and crises
Actions speak louder than words, and employees aren’t dumb. Most of your employees will follow your lead. Now, you can’t be perfect all of the time, and everyone has lapses. Make sure you admit aloud whenever you find yourself off track and in breach of values. When problems or crises catch you off balance, your immediate reaction might be contrary to your personal or organizational values system. But you can slow down, and ask yourself, “What guidance do our values provide for handling this situation?” You can make course corrections to demonstrate that you are concerned with doing the right thing in accordance with values. Here are some important keys for walking your talk:
- Spend your time in a way that reflects your organization’s values.
- Get out of your office and interact with the people who work with you and for you.
- Watch what you say…or don’t say.
- When things get hot, slow down, stay calm, and use values as your guide.
3. Teach values to your people: You have to make it very clear that you expect your people to live by your organization’s values. You have to sell them on the importance of living the values; more than that, you have to teach them. One of the most effective ways to teach values is through asking questions. When you ask people what they value, and which organizational value they use most frequently, you are pointing them in the right direction. Asking questions helps people learn how to apply critical thinking skills on their own. It also helps people articulate what they already know.
4. Remove obstacles to working with values: Your most important job as a leader is to help your people succeed. You must smooth the way for them because there are always obstacles and barriers to values driven performance. You must identify roadblocks, eliminate or minimize them, or show team members how to deal with those that can’t be removed.
5. Reward and recognize those who live the values: Most leaders know that effective feedback must be specific and timely. It’s not effective to tell someone that he or she is “doing a great job and working with the values of the company.” What does that mean? How can people do more of it, if they aren’t sure what you mean? Instead, effective leaders say something like, “I saw you go out of your way to help so-and-so yesterday in order to avert a problem. That’s a great example of our organizational value of teamwork (or customer service, or other value) in action. I appreciate what you did.”
People crave recognition. According to the Gallup Organization, 65 percent of U.S. workers reported that they received no recognition in the workplace last year. The number one reason people leave their jobs is that they don’t feel appreciated. Smart leaders actively search out opportunities to catch people doing something right and thank them for doing it. Recognizing and rewarding behavior that’s in line with values is the single best way to ensure that it continues.
6. Redirect those who aren’t working with values: This is where the rubber meets the road and where you earn your money as a leader. You must hold people accountable when they are not living the values.
There will always be a few who don’t want to get with the program, and you must be the one to deal with this problem or everyone suffers. You will lose credibility and respect of others, and the work group as a whole will suffer.
Explore with people the reasons they are doing what they are doing and why they choose not to live the values. Consider these reasons:
- They don’t know why the values are important.
- They don’t know what they should be doing to live/work with the values.
- They think values are for other people, not them.
- They don’t get rewarded for living the values.
- Nothing happens when they don’t live the values.
- Quite simply, they don’t like the values and refuse them.
As a leader, this presents the challenging opportunity to engage them in some meaningful dialogue about what is important to them, how their personal values can align with the organization’s, and how their personal behavior is in conflict with organizational values.
The hard part is when disciplinary action is in order. Similar to giving positive feedback, be specific and timely about what behaviors need to change.
The key to attempting to change anyone’s behavior is respect. You must show that you respect the employee as a person while asking for conflicting behaviors to change.
Redirecting people who are not living the values is one of the most important things a leader must do. To do so is to ensure your credibility and to reinforce the importance of values.