Well, I’ve heard it stated many different ways. What I grew up with was the quote, “Practice what you preach.” Then, I’ve been given to believe that Charles Murray states it as, “Do not preach what you do not practice.” The same message though. Leaders must be authentic, do as they request others to do, and live their values.
How many times have we been disappointed by leaders who vociferously espouse a set of values only to find that they live
their own lives in opposition to those values? How many ethically challenged companies fail to live up to their stated values?
The topic of authenticity in leadership seems to be pretty hot these days. It is a frequent discussion at the business incubators where I mentor entrepreneurs. It is a frequently requested topic for other leadership presentations.
In a recent workshop, we discussed the tension created between being authentic with who I am today, who I aspire to become, and who other people want me to be. I found this to be a fascinating and scintillating discussion. For me, everything is based on clear values.
One of the challenges I find is that few people have really done the hard work of defining their core values. When asked, individuals will frequently respond with generic value words. Most are values they believe others want them to have, not necessarily values they have thoughtfully developed on their own. This includes the startup entrepreneurs who are at the very beginning of defining the culture of their new company.
Values underpin the cultures of our organizations. The culture is simply “how things get done around here.” Meaning, for the most part, how decisions are made. Decisions should, of course, be made based on our values — both as individuals and as an organization.
The second aspect of an organization (or individual) living out its values is the concept of “fit.” Too often we hire employees for technical competencies and mostly get only a passing, intuitive feel for their values. Yet a mismatch in values means that there is a mismatch in culture and the employee will not stay. Perhaps worse is that the employee will stay but be totally disengaged — Gallop polls still say that 70% of employees are disengaged at work.
We also know from the data gathered in exit interviews that employees leave their boss, not their job. They leave because they do not share the same values as their boss. Sure, there is also a need for a compelling vision. However, even the vision is underpinned by values.
I love working on this topic with the entrepreneurs in the business incubators. They are in the perfect position to begin actively managing the corporate culture. In the beginning, it is often only the founder herself involved. It is easy to practice what they would preach because it is only one person.
However, the first person the founder hires or brings onto the team will change their culture. The goal is to minimize that change by making sure that values match as closely as possible. To do so means that the values have to have been carefully and deeply explored. They must be made explicit. It is important that they be simple. It is critical that everyone in the organization embrace those values and live by them.
My admonition is to hire first for values and second for technical competencies. Do not compromise your values. Invest in training on the competency needs rather than seeking a person with full qualifications technically, but who has a set of values that do not match. First, a leader must do the hard work of digging into their own value system. I maintain that the founder/owner/CEO — the leadership team — really has only one job, and that is to actively manage the organization’s culture.