Lead from values

Whenever we lead from values, we set a strong example for our team members and provide a clear and powerful decision-making tool.

5 min read


lead from values

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In previous productivity steps we planned our work (Step 1,) put systems in place to keep our people informed and in sync (Step 2,) rolled up our sleeves to get work done (Step 3,) and identified strategies to sustain the momentum we’ve built (Step 4.) This post goes deeper on Step 5, leading for maximal productivity

The fifth and final component of this step is to be sure to lead from values. Values are the core components of a person’s deepest beliefs, the concepts that they hold most dear and that drive decision making, or at least should. When a leader takes the time to identify her deepest values, she is likelier to make satisfying choices and remain consistent in her actions and choices. Moreover, if she is effective in articulating her values then others will understand her reasoning and be more inclined to support her process.

Leadership from the rear forward

naphtali hoff 2018 cropped

Of course, the ideal way to lead is to do so from the rear forward, rather than to drag others along from the front. The more that the “followers” feel and a sense of ownership of, and connection with, the underlying values and related decision making, the more inclined they will be to support the effort and contribute towards its success. 

Creating a shared sense of values may not be as challenging as would first appear. For starters, gather your team together for conversation. Offer them a values list and see where the discussion goes. Focus on company values as opposed to personal ones. Aim to narrow down the list to a core group that can help direct future decision-making in a manner that is not personal but rather values driven. Then, send the list around for clarification and confirmation. Once confirmed, publicize the values for all to see. At a future meeting, present scenarios so that everyone can grapple with the situation in the context of the values that they have selected. 

So, for example, the company has embraced a respectful work environment that prioritizes personal wellbeing and family over the pursuit of profits. Present a scenario in which these values are threatened, by such things as harsh, competitive marketplace conditions or demanding clients. Ask the group to identify the challenge against their values and how they would expect themselves and the leadership to respond. In this way, they not only crystalize their position but create and pathway forward when the inevitable conflicts arise. 

So often, leaders must choose between two “rights.” It is right to reward loyal workers who have invested so much into the organization but also right to promote the most competent and skilled staff. It is correct for there to be consequences for an employee who has compromised the company by her actions. Offering mercy and compassion is also correct, especially when it becomes clear that she was in a bad way personally. It is proper for a leader to explore new opportunities for growth. But is it not also proper for her to remain considerate of what such change might do to everyone on staff? By identifying clarifying values, such scenarios become easier to approach. 

Ethical, value-based leadership starts at the top

This conversation fits neatly within the general construct of ethical leadership. Ethical leadership is a form of organizational administration that places core values, such as trust, respect and personal satisfaction at the heart of its operations.

As with other leadership constructs, ethical leadership begins with the leader. You cannot expect your team to perform with character and integrity without first setting the example. As the leader, your team looks to you for guidance and direction. You must know and have the capacity to articulate your own values as well as your organization’s values. And then you must live by them. What you do, not what you say, demonstrates most what you care about.

Reward those who lead with values

A reward system for team members who consistently act according to the company values will reinforce desired outcomes and give you a forum to promote positive conduct. Whenever possible, share the good word about what your colleagues have achieved, or how they are walking the walk and enhancing your organization as a result. 

It is also necessary to establish consequences for team members who don’t follow the organization’s values. We all strive to be good and act in accordance with our values. But sometimes we fall short, and must be held accountable to prevent slippage.  

Creating a values system offers another benefit, that of self-selection. Ex-Proctor and Gamble CEO Bob McDonald once suggested to graduate students that they only work for a company that they believe in. This can be done by examining a company’s purpose, values and people to see if they align with your own beliefs and ethics. Of course, people who do not share the same values can choose to stay away from you company or may be vetted out through interview conversation. McDonald also admonished future leaders to “choose the harder right, rather than the easier wrong.” 

Values, unlike leaders, are eternal. When a leader has effectively used values – hers and others’ – as her starting point, she can be assured that her “fingerprints and footprints” (to once again quote McDonald) will remain behind long after her departure, guiding people along a values-driven pathway.


Naphtali Hoff, PsyD, is an executive coach who helps busy leaders be more productive so that they can scale profits with less stress and get home at a decent hour.

Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.


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