9 tasks of leadership- Task #2 = Affirming values

no signsTo be truthful, values are being affirmed whether we pay direct attention to it or not. In the general course of daily activity, what you believe in will be articulated and demonstrated. Of the two voices for affirming values – what you say and what you do – what you do speaks loudest.

The challenge for leaders is consistency -paying attention so that what you say and what you do are the same. The chairman of a company in San Bernardino, California (a sole proprietorship company of medium size) developed an internal training program for the express purpose of preparing executives to take higher positions of responsibility and authority within that company. Lots of noise was made over the purpose of the program which was quite comprehensive, detailed, and thorough. It was clearly communicated that if you wanted to get ahead in that company, the only path led through the training program. A fair number of aspiring executives entered the program full of anticipation of the future.

As the program progressed, a good deal of speculation arose as to who might be selected for an upcoming vice-chairman vacancy when the current occupant moved to another state to begin his own company. The chairman’s close and assumedly trusted advisors made their selection known. They favored a man who had been diligent and faithful to complete the executive training program.

When the selection was announced it sent a tsunami through the program. The chairman selected his son to take the vice-chairmanship. The son was a nice enough fellow but he had not been in even one class of the training program. Not one! He did not participate and therefore did not graduate. He had not even lived in the same region and had to move in, at the company’s expense, from another state.

The words spoken had said that the values of the company were in playing by the rules, going through the approved channels, and enjoying the commensurate rewards for compliance. The words demonstrated said something entirely different. What really mattered was not what they said, not what they promised, but whether you were a relative.

The result was entirely predictable. The pool of available talent began to evaporate as people in the program, having become enlightened,  left for positions elsewhere. What could have been a valuable resource for the company became a joke. The people who played by the rules felt like fools. No amount of smooth talking, authoritative sounding reassurances, or promises of “other” executive positions could help.

The message was clear – Do not trust what they tell you. You will play the game but they will do whatever they want.

I wish this was an isolated case but it is not. The values you espouse are either trumped or they are reinforced by the things you do.

If what you do does not parallel what you say, you as the leader will become the focus of reaction.

If what you say and what you do actually do match, you as the leader become the catalyst for growth and action.

The first task of leadership is envisioning the future. It will articulate where the company or group will go. The values you affirm will determine how smoothly the ride will be. You, as leader, cannot hope to reach the outer edges of the circle of your concern by yourself. You need others to extend your reach, multiply your effectiveness, and divide your work. The kind of people you will attract and retain and the nature of the organization along with its reputation will be decided by the values you affirm.

One of the most fundamental tenets of motivation is that you provoke people want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you say with your mouth that you ought to be.

Let me state that again. One of the most powerful devices you have for inspiring people to cooperate with your vision and enable you to fulfill that vision is to convince people to want what it is that you’ve got because you reflect with your life what it is that you have said with your mouth that you ought to be.

The goals you have envisioned, the objectives you have articulated, the future state you are driving towards are made concrete by the actions you take, and don’t take, to pursue your goals, objectives and future state. What you do along the way either validates or neutralizes those objectives. What you do will either advance your vision and stiffen your principles or it will retard your cause and erode your principles. This is no trivial matter.

The ultimate label for the combination of how well you and your company model those affirmed values is called integrity and it is advanced by consistency. That company in San Bernardino mentioned above scuttled their integrity needlessly.

Affirmation of values is more than the assertion of objectives or the formulation of policies. Verbalization is only part of the composition of reality. We are prone to talk. We are usually less prone to step back and examine whether what we say is being supported and affirmed by what we do. What happens in your organization will do more to establish the values of your organization or group than anything you say.

These four things must happen.

  1. Values must be identified. What are yours?
  2. Values must be agreed. Who has bought into yours and are you certain that they have?
  3. Values must be reinforced. What are you doing to pour concrete around the words?
  4. Values can be realized. Just how well is the package of coming together in your company?

Integrity made manifest across a broad spectrum of time and experience is called authenticity. This might be a good time near the start of a new year to take a long look at the match between what has been said and what is being done then make whatever corrections are mandated.

The next post will cover the 3rd essential task – motivating. See you on Monday.

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