Stand for Something or Fall for Anything

In my coaching and consulting practice, I often find that I am working with individual leaders, teams or organizations to develop, re-frame, redefine or otherwise establish their core values.  This exercise can be motivated from a number of sources:

  • Personally - to gain clarity on work challenges, desired advancement or changes in career, making choices about current/future fit ian organization, and exploring challenges related to work/life balance and similar choices. 

  • Teams - trying to strengthen teamwork, manage conflict, get clarity of where the team is going, how they are going to get there, and what is permissible/non-permissible behaviors/actions.

  • Organizationally - usually as part of an organizational reset and often tied to redevelopment/ reestablishment of a strategic plan or trying to figure out why desired results are not being achieved.

I love this kind of work - regardless of level at which it happens - as I do believe it is critical and crucial work.  Other leaders that I have worked with over the past 30 years plus would tell you different.  In fact, they would consider "values" work to be a lot of fluff and really only good for those ubiquitous annual reports and strategic plans that are mandated to them by an external agency, a board of directors, or by a variety of other stakeholders.  They engage in this work and produce such only because it is mandated, not because they see benefit in the exercise or expect to adhere to these values after the glossy publication is put on the shelf.  And, for me, the results of this lack of commitment are clear.

Having worked for these kinds of leaders and organizations I can attest to the personal impact on me and can certainly relate to the toxic effects it has on the broader workforce and for employee engagement.  Values matter on a number of fronts.  Many of us make employment and career choices - sometimes implicitly rather than explicitly - on the basis of whether a leader's or organization's values resonate with our own.  As I'm sure many of you have heard or read, the #1 reason that people leave organizations relates to their relationship, or lack thereof, with their direct supervisor. I would venture that a strong parallel conclusion would be that people also leave organizational cultures that don't resonate with their core values.

And let's remember that "leaving" an organization may not just come in the form of physical departure.  Many organizations, striving for higher levels of productivity, are fighting significant forms of both presenteeism and absenteeism based on a lack of true and authentic engagement of their workforce - on the basis of shared values.

Just as problematic, however, and more distressing to me are leaders that do have a strong sense of core values but consistently fail to strongly articulate those values and/or strongly and consistently put them into action.  The reality then becomes that a team or an organization fails to see a consistent presence or application of core values - whether that of the individual leader or of the organization.  Too often the result of this is other leaders, staff and stakeholders are either left to guess or interpret what values should guide actions OR, more worrisome, live and lead to a set of values that actually contrary to what the leader or organization is intending or hoping for.  The clear result of this "organic" and evolutionary model of leadership is an organizational free-for-all that lacks cohesion, alignment and as often as not results in unproductive and destructive conflict.

Clear personal values, clear team values and clear organizational values that are fully defined and effectively and courageously utilized to animate other structures and processes (e.g., recruitment, retention, performance management, strategic planning, communication) can be powerful in moving individuals, teams and organizations forward.  Certainly a great reference for me in this regard is Simon Sinek's "Start With Why".  Understand and lead self before you can effectively understand, lead and attract others that believe what you believe.

This also means having the courage to articulate - in some level of detail - what you believe in and stand for and then having the courage to act on those stated convictions.  This is why I push my individual coaching clients or consulting clients so hard on moving beyond one-word statements of their values.  Stating that we hold values of integrity, respect, transparency and so on needs to move beyond those basic and potentially powerful words to longer definitions and clear examples of what those values will mean in action, what is permissible and what actions and behaviors are out of bounds. Once those definitions are affirmed the proof really is in the pudding - is a leader or organization prepared to make a stand in service of those values?  To make the courageous and hard choices that demonstrate that these values mean something?

In the absence of committed leadership, founded on one's or an organization's well-developed values, the next wind will blow you in the next easiest direction.  You are no better off than those leaders who never believed in an exploration or declaration of powerful values.  Your glossy publication will gather just as much dust.

Leadership is a lonely venture, but in the end it IS all about leadership.

I end this particular post with a poem by Dylan Thomas which I have referenced before.  It speaks to me about being true to self, holding true to one's ideals, all in an effort to make a real difference in this world of ours.  For me, it is also a call to courageous leadership.  Choose to lead by your values and your terms.  There is a place and an organization calling for your talent and your leadership. 

Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Though wise men at their end know dark is right, Because their words had forked no lightning they Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight, And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way, Do not go gentle into that good night. 

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay, Rage, rage against the dying of the light. 

And you, my father, there on the sad height, Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray. Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Greg Hadubiak, MHSA, FACHE, CEC, PCC
Executive Coach/Leadership Consultant
President & Co-Founder
BreakPoint Solutions