The Role of Values in Effective Leadership

September 15, 2011

Ethics, Leadership, Personal Excellence

Nearly every organization has a value statement that they purport to use as a governing doctrine for their organization.  Values are the constraint on Mission that declares that the ends do not justify the means.  Leader and organizational credibility depend on adherence to values, yet few leaders and leadership systems act to instill values as a critical part of organizational or individual decision making.

Institutional or industry credibility rest on adherence to values.  If an industry or organization violates values, the damage can be long standing.  Think about going to buy a used car.  Does the reputation of used car dealers, deserved or not, give you a warm fuzzy feeling of anticipation?  How much trust do we put in investment rating agencies, banks or financial advisers since the economic meltdown?  Today’s headlines of TSA employees and cops using their offices to traffic illegal drugs on commercial planes again taint the reputation of both their organizations and the profession.

How do Leaders Infuse Values Into Their Organization?

Values need to be more than a statement on a dusty plaque in the lobby.  Leaders begin by establishing and communicating values.  Most importantly they role model living the organizations’ value statement and demonstrate their role in decision-making.  The old adage that people do what the boss checks applies to values as well.  Value based organizations make compliance with organizational values an integral part of employee evaluations and the promotional process.  They recognize and reward value driven behaviors and they punish violations.  Behaviors are evaluated in terms of compliance with organizational values. They create an organizational culture and image that is based on values and credibility.

I come from a policing background where the organization’s value statement was unknown to the vast majority of the employees – including the supervisors who were most responsible for role modeling and developing values driven behavior in the organization.  This is a pretty poor state when you consider the authority, discretion and gravity inherent to the actions taken by officers.  Similar industries, where followers make important decisions with high levels of individual discretion have found ways to make values a systematic part of what the boss checks.

The US Army is a great example of this.  On the surface one might not think that a soldier or army leader has much discretion.  The truth is that life and death decisions are made at all levels of the organization.  Army values are made part of the Army’s evaluation process (See DA 67-9).  An evaluation that notes that an individual is not compliant with organizational values is the virtual death knell for their career.  One can certainly find violations of values within the organization but not at the level that would occur if values were ignored as in most evaluation systems.

Effective leadership demands that you develop a vibrant, values driven culture within your organization.

Please comment on the most effective ways you have found to instill values driven behavior in your organization.


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