Much has been written about the importance of values at the company and individual level. Organizations that clearly define and support their values are proven to outperform organizations that don’t; they have higher employee engagement and retention and are more profitable. Period.
At the individual level, values are those little things we do each and every day that exemplify who we are. They aren’t trendy business hacks, they’re timeless guides that drive everything we do.
We have a choice each and every day to live in support of our values, or in spite of our values.
So what happens in the latter case?
Back to that in a moment.
First, let’s start with the most critical values that every truly great leader displays. For help with this list, I connected with an organization deeply knowledgeable on the matter–The Foundation for a Better Life. You’ve probably seen billboards for their award-winning “Pass It On” campaign. Each billboard highlights one important value and encourages the reader to, well, pass it on.
The non-profit organization’s mission is to uplift and educate viewers with reminders of important values. So they know a thing or two about the role of values in business. I took their list of the five most important values for leaders and then juxtaposed it with the cost of letting each value slide:
Integrity is as close to a non-negotiable as there is in the business world. It requires brutal honesty, selflessness, and a desire to do what’s right even at personal cost.
But when you miss – Breaches in integrity make us uncertain about an individual or organization, and that uncertainty is incredibly difficult to dissipate. In Hollywood and on many public stages, people can overcome a lapse in integrity with well-placed, sincere apologies. However, according to research and my personal experience, it’s different in the business world–one breach is often all it takes to sever trust forever.
Confident leaders are adept at making tough decisions, rallying the troops and inspiring others to achieve their potential. Also, employees and stakeholders demand confidence from their leaders, especially during times of uncertainty.
But when you miss – A study by the University of Melbourne showed that there’s a correlation between advancement at work and self-confidence levels, even self-confidence levels dating back as early as primary school. Other research shows that the number one characteristic most common among successful leaders is supreme confidence.
So this isn’t something you want to do without, and we haven’t even gotten to the fact that an organization is never more confident than its leader. The troops will spot bouts of self-confidence loss a mile away and will lose their confidence in the leader to boot.
Leaders display the value of commitment when they invest in developing short and long-term plans, clearly articulate their vision and goals, and then stick to it all. Without commitment, promises seem empty and directions lack continuity.
But when you miss – Chaos. Lack of commitment means inconsistency and uncertainty. Research shows the number one thing employees say they need to perform better at work is clear understanding of what the organization’s goals are and what’s expected of them in delivering those goals.
As a leader, when you show a lack of commitment to a vision or a set of goals, you won’t get commitment in return. Hell, you won’t even get compliance.
4. Giving back.
Employees follow leaders who demonstrate the value of giving back. They feel pride working for leaders who care about social good as well as the bottom line.
But when you miss – Companies/leaders demonstrating the ability to have a social impact has become a talent acquisition and retention must. A Stanford study indicated that a whopping 90 percent of millennials strongly prefer working for a company/leaders that have demonstrated social responsibility.
So not visibly giving back won’t give you the backing you need from employees.
Strong leaders demonstrate the value of communicating consistently. They excel at listening, giving clear direction, being open to feedback (even criticism) and absorbing new ideas.
But when you miss – In organizations where communication stinks, it happens because a) people aren’t investing the time it takes to communicate effectively, b) they believe communication is happening at a sufficient level when in fact it isn’t, or c) no one is listening well enough to each other.
None of this is good–all of it creates uncertainty, inefficiency, and ill-will.
The bottom line is if you value being a forward-thinking leader, you can’t leave these values behind.