Somewhere along the journey, we’ve lost our way when it comes to authentic, values-based leadership in our organizations. Employees have grown cynical of over-promising and under-delivering. Executives have lost trust for saying one thing, and doing another. Integrity, honesty and leadership from the heart is always what employees are looking for, and yet that’s not always the end-product they receive.
It’s time we realize as leaders that our actions must be rooted in authentic leadership that blends emotional intelligence with time-tested values.
When we begin our search for the answers, we realize they’re not very hard to find. As times change, organizational culture changes. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. In these cultural changes, the one constant should be our values. But lately, we’re struggling to identify what our core values actually are. The farther we get from our values, the more everything begins to feel like a transaction.
Employees hate transaction. They want transformation. They want to know what the value proposition is for them. They need a reason to believe.
Organizations turn employees away when they’re only focused on improving the bottom line. Forgetting who they serve starts as a minor deviation that grows into a losing long-term strategy. Want to gain influence as an executive? Meet as many new people as you can. Take the time to know them. Show a genuine interest in them and act in accordance with what you stand for. That’s step one in becoming more transformational. Only relying on building relationships when you need them? That’s a recipe for disaster.
Values Make Leaders
“You have to maintain a culture of transformation and stay true to your values.”—Jeff Weiner
Values often go unnoticed. Unacknowledged. We tend to put up a wall—a resistance to a collectively agreed upon set of core beliefs. Maybe it’s the anti-establishment nature of our being. Maybe it’s not rooted in anything of psychological significance.
So, what are some values that leaders assimilate into their arsenal? I’m talking about honesty, confidence, perseverance, kindness and humility. These are universally accepted and beneficial values. They are key components to leadership—no matter the venue.
If you asked Steve Jobs what made him great, he would have told you intelligent direction and hard work. He also would have told you enthusiasm and passion for what you do! It’s why one of his famous quotes—from an all-time epic speech—is an exhortation to follow your heart. Values matter to all-time great businessmen and women. But also to every leader of any organization.
Values provide us with a framework for how to raise our families. How we determine who we want in a spouse. How we decide to leave our mark on the world. Values help us to focus on transforming the lives of the people around us, so that anyone who comes in contact with us, is better off for having met us.
The 3 Ways
Great leaders—in any endeavor—are first concerned with developing and adding value to the people they lead! This is what makes smart leadership transformational, not transactional. This is what made Herb Kelleher, the founder and former CEO of Southwest Airlines, one of the most beloved CEO’s in American history. Kelleher was a game changer that led from the heart and genuinely cared as much for his employees as he did for his customers.
Here are three ways to improve the way we lead—in every part of our lives.
Lead with Values
What we do defines who we are. Values provide that definition and core structure for decision-making and relationship-building. A bedrock foundation of values leads us to opportunities and relationships we only could have dreamed of, previously.
Values are the foundation on which the most successful and respected people build their lives. Want others to admire the way you carry yourself? Live with honesty and integrity. Want to live a bolder, more fulfilling life? Treat people with kindness and respect. Hoping to realize your dreams? Persevere, work hard and burn with an enthusiasm—a fire—that is unmatched by your peers.
Values, as the great Mahatma Gandhi once said, become our destiny.
“Culture is the widening of the mind and of the spirit.”—Jawaharlal Nehru
Invest in People 1st. Profit comes 2nd
So you’re CFO, CEO or Chief Operating Officer. Know this—while the dollars do matter, it’s always the people that come first. We will never make it on our own in this life. We work hard, approach things with a positive attitude and still, we rely on others to get where we want to be. Invest in yourself. But invest in the people around you. No, not necessarily the financial type of investment.
Time! Our most precious resource. Your time is limited. So make the decision to invest time in improving yourself and adding value to the lives of others. This is what Sara Blakeley does as CEO of Spanx. She passionately leads her employees and gets them to focus on their personal and professional development. That’s giving back. But it also brings leadership, love and joy to his life!
Here’s an example in the professional world from a model company. Zappos…
“pays 100 percent of premiums for medical, dental, vision, and primary care visits, and it offers free generic prescriptions. The company prefers to have employees work on their own, instead of being traditionally managed by a supervisor, in the hopes of encouraging creativity and self-direction.”
Be concerned with people. It’s the mark of a leader.
Relationships Lead to Opportunity for All
Think about every new job and every creative opportunity you’ve launched. I think you’ll discover this was born from great relationships. When we look inward, we realize we would be nothing without the support, encouragement and mentoring of fellow leaders. The best example I’ve studied of how relationships lead to opportunity comes from Napoleon Hill’s book, Think and Grow Rich.
It’s the story of Edwin Barnes and how he wanted to work with Thomas Edison, not for him. He was so determined to do so; he gave up everything he had in order to make it happen. He demonstrated to Edison that he was worthy of trust and leadership. And after several years of hard work, Edison granted him the opportunity of a lifetime—leading a major segment of Edison’s business. One that made Barnes a millionaire.
You have to want to drive positive change and lift up the people around you. And to be a transformational leader, you have to be willing to put in the time and effort to build mutually beneficial relationships.
You’re a leader. You know it, but you have to show others with a “warrior spirit” as Herb Kelleher once said. Inject passion and purpose into your actions and watch your relationships and profits improve. Concern yourself with running your own race and the value you deliver to your employees and customers. Make them say,
“John cares more about my needs than he does his own!”
“Jennifer truly lives by values and principles that are the mark of a servant leader that cares.”
That’s transformational. Be someone who gives greatness to the world.
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