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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  • http://www.validleadership.com James

    We need to be consistent and transparent. If we compromise the core values by making exceptions here and there, we'll never set the proper foundation. When we stand firm to these values, our people should respond in kind. We can talk about them forever, but in the end, it is our actions that encourage others to maintain these values.

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  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jcatron jcatron

    Great application and great reminder!

    "You may get tired of thinking and talking about values." I resonate with that statement too well. I have to continually remind myself that this is a core part of my job, not just something I need to do so that we can move on to the task at hand. As Bill Hybels says "vision leaks".

    As for how I do it… I have tried to find some creative ways to communicate core values, often through stories or catch phrases. For example when I needed to reinforce the value of good communication within the staff, I told a story about how I can't stand it when people don't use their blinker when they drive. It's our mode of communication on the road. Because it's a running joke in our office that I drive like a maniac, they all connected with my story and had some fun with it. I likened not using your blinker to not communicating with one another and our team has embraced the axiom "use your blinker". Our staff will now preface an email or a conversation with "I'm using my blinker". I love this because they have now become carriers of that value too.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I like the “use your blinker” story. Perfect!

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/patriciazell patriciazell

    I'm really enjoying this series of posts, Michael. You are giving me much to think about as I transpose your points from leading an organization to teaching teenagers. So far, I've come up with the core value of my classes as being the importance of a good education, and am thinking of ways that I can effectively communicate that value to my students. Thanks for taking the time to share these concepts with us.

  • http://www.yuzzi.com Rick Yuzzi

    The best example I've seen of an organization with a clear set of core values and a commitment to following them (including communicating those values) is my church (http://www.johnsonferry.org/CoreValues.aspx). All decisions made at the church are weighed against our mission statement and these core values.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/mitchebie Mitch Ebie

    One of the best ways to encourage others is to show them by example. Ideally, the example will be the proof that the values are effective. No one wants to follow values that don't work, and how would anyone know they work unless they are seen in action.

    The verses in Deuteronomy that you mentioned above fit so well. I have been looking for a pericope just like that for a little while for something that I am writing, thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  • http://www.therextras.com BarbaraBoucher PTPhD

    'transcendent' – that's the word I am going to focus on for today's lesson from you, Michael. Thanks.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I like that word, too.

  • http://www.josephmcole.com Joseph Cole

    This is the most difficult lesson out of your series so far for me. Being a young leader, I find myself making decisions based on what I believe makes good sense at the time rather than a standard of agreed-upon values. This decision making process is quick, yet as I grow older, I find it imprudent. I feel at times that my senior leaders enjoy the speedy results of my decisions, however, I am not happy with the outcome. Sure, it gets the job done, but it comes in the wake of insecure, confused volunteers and staff.

    • http://intensedebate.com/people/michaelhyatt Michael Hyatt

      I think expediency and productivity are so often the standard we measure everything against today. The problem is that we often end up making a lot of short-term decisions with negative consequences.

  • http://intensedebate.com/profiles/kaikunane ThatGuyKC

    Very sound advice. Thank you, Michael.

    I'm not exactly in a leadership position at work, but I can still exemplify my core values and those of the company.

    I know the Bible reference originally applies to parenting and thank you for the reminder. As Father's Day approaches I am growing keenly aware of the impact I have on my family as head of our home.

    • Ritz

       good

  • http://bondchristian.com/ bondChristian

    Another thing, which someone like Seth Godin does remarkably well, is to provide terminology for your core values. When you and I repeat the same words over and over again, other start to see what our core values are through them (if of course our actions are consistent with what we're saying)… but more than that, they're able to easily share it with still others because they already have the words to express it instead of having to come up with it on their own.

    It's just one more way of removing barriers for people to share your values.

    -Marshall Jones Jr.

  • http://twitter.com/DewittRobinson @DewittRobinson

    Great post! I'm not the leader of an organization (yet). I've served in supporting roles for many. I find most leaders help to drive #'s 1-3 really hard. However, #4 isn't enforced as much as it should be. Perhaps, because they feel as if there is an on/off switch for their organizations values.

  • http://www.kenhensley.com Ken Hensley

    I've found that clarity and consistency are two important factors determining whether or not others pick up and share your values. Clarity means that we ourselves are clear about our values and communicate them in a way that is understandable. Sometimes leaders experience a knowledge gap: we know what we're trying to say and assume everyone else does, too.

    Consistency is saying and doing the same thing over and over. When we are inconsistent in how we live our values, those around are not empowered to speak up or speak out.

  • http://www.kenhensley.com Ken Hensley

    I've found that clarity and consistency are two important factors determining whether or not others pick up and share your values. Clarity means that we ourselves are clear about our values and communicate them in a way that is understandable. Sometimes leaders experience a knowledge gap: we know what we're trying to say and assume everyone else does, too.

  • http://www.i-68.us/ Angel

    Very sound advice. Thank you, Michael.

    I’m not exactly in a leadership position at work, but I can still exemplify my core values and those of the company.

    I know the Bible reference originally applies to parenting and thank you for the reminder. As Father’s Day approaches I am growing keenly aware of the impact I have on my family as head of our home.