Leadership Question #8: How Do You Encourage Others to Communicate Your Core Values?

Continuing in my series of “20 Leadership Questions,” we come to the eighth question that Michael Smith asked when he interviewed me. This question is similar to the last one.

Close Up of a Baton Handoff in a Relay Race - Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kycstudio, Image #7189948

Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/kycstudio

Michael asked,

How do you encourage others in your organization to communicate the core values?”

In my last post, I emphasized the formal ways in which we communicate our values at Thomas Nelson. I talked about hiring practices, new employee orientation, rewards and recognition, and annual reviews. All of these are important, but, as I suggested at the end of the post, they are probably not the most important.

Just as in parenting, it is the informal, day-to-day situations we encounter that present the greatest opportunity for expressing our values and shaping our culture. This is not a new idea. It is at least as old as Moses.

In the book of Exodus, when God gave His people the Law, He also told them how to teach it to their children. He didn’t suggest classrooms, seminars, or conferences. In fact, he didn’t recommend a formal process at all. Instead, he hand in mind a more comprehensive, organic approach:

6 And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. 9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.” (Deuteronomy 6:6–9)

While this is specifically talking about teaching God’s commandments to children, I think it is applicable to teaching anything valuable in any organizational context. In teaching values, I think it provides a four-pronged communications model:

  1. Your values must first be in your heart (v. 6). This is where it all starts. You can’t pass on what you don’t possess. As leaders, we must embrace the values for ourselves. Then we must encourage the other leaders in our organization to embrace them as well. Anything less will seem contrived or hypocritical if we don’t start here.
  2. You must express your values in everyday life (v. 7). Values are taught—and caught—in the context of concrete situations. This is especially true when you encounter conflict, adversity, or even defeat. It’s one thing to sit in a conference room and talk theory. It’s another thing to make values-based decisions in the midst of budget cuts, layoffs, or customer complaints.
  3. You must keep your values visible (v. 8). You may get tired of thinking and talking about values. (I sometimes do.) But as leaders, it is an essential part of our work. You must be the standard bearer. It is too easy for others in our organization to lose perspective. Our job is to keep reminding them of our values and what is at stake if we don’t act in a way that is congruent with them.
  4. You must live your values everywhere (v. 9). By their very nature, values are transcendent. They apply close at home and far away. In every context and in all situations. Whether you are in the board room, on a client visit, or attending a trade show in another city, you must walk the talk and encourage your fellow leaders to do likewise.

Given the daily challenges of running any organization, it is easy for values to get overlooked and even forgotten. As leaders, we can’t let this happen. Values are the foundation of a healthy organization. Keeping them alive and passing them on is critical to enduring success.

Question: How do you encourage the leaders in your organization to pass on your core values?

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