Elvis Presley once famously said, “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ’em all over everything you do.” Often, when there’s talk of values in the modern work context, many people’s eyes glaze over. Others even dismiss values as an antiquated buzzword or hyped-up “HR-speak.” So, the question is: Do values still matter – and why?
I’d say an unequivocal “yes.” If you’re working as a consultant and are invited to take on a project for a company, the notion of values may seem to not come into play. You’re there to do a job, complete it on time and as expected, get paid, and move on. But your values will influence your actions all the way through.
Similarly, what if you’re considering accepting a position on an enterprise’s Board of Directors? Here, I’d argue, the relevance of values even becomes amplified. These are longer-term relationships and, often, there’s an added pressure of investments and equity at stake. In this scenario, if there’s misalignment between the values you hold dear as a person and those of the business you’re representing at the senior echelons, things can quickly fall apart.
It’s unlikely to end well for you, the rest of the board, or the company.
When Things Fall Apart…
So, why does alignment between personal and professional values matter so much?
If there’s misalignment, you’ll be unable to lead authentically and within your own skin; and it’s likely you’ll be faced with making decisions that just don’t sit well. Eventually, you may start to dislike how it makes you feel and become disillusioned or disengaged.
When companies bring in a new board member, they typically expect them to be there for the long haul. If your personal values do not align with the company’s values, oftentimes the new relationship quickly becomes strained as business decisions or tasks could be in direct conflict with your ethical compass. You could regret the decision to accept the position, causing added stress and frustration which inevitably leads to discord and dissent, boardroom bickering, stand-offs, and stalemates. The disconnects between the person’s individual values and those of the rest of the Board, or even the business as a whole, have started to manifest. Often, these cracks come to the fore when the time comes to make tough decisions.
At this point, difficult decisions need to be made about whether the professional relationship is profitable enough to continue, or if the employee needs to be let go, essentially terminating what was anticipated to be a long-term relationship. This is a problem that could have been addressed before it arose, even before the employee was hired, if the company had prioritized finding people who embodied the same values as them.
Another mistake boards and executive teams often make is confusing diversity and values. The two are not one of the same. While diversity is essential in order to have a wide range of perspectives and people who can approach things with a fresh eye or propose new ways to solve old problems, core values must be aligned with the rest of the group’s, or there will inevitably be friction.
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The Power of Transparent Leadership
Of all the core values I hold myself accountable to, I’d say transparency tops the list. But, I’ve also learned that it’s probably one of the most difficult to master because by being transparent you inevitably introduce an element of vulnerability.
Being thoroughly transparent means acknowledging that you, too, are human and, therefore, fallible and will sometimes make mistakes. However, in my experience, the benefits of transparency far outweigh any potential downsides.
Transparent leaders are more effective in winning and sustaining their people’s loyalty because they are upfront with their values. They succeed in motivating teams to act boldly and strive for greatness in their work by having their ethical boundaries clearly outlined for people to follow.
For me, being transparent means being intentional about how, when, and why I communicate. People appreciate leaders taking the time to explain the thinking behind their actions, especially if the effects of those decisions impact them. That doesn’t mean everyone will necessarily agree with you, but explaining your thought process will give people comfort that you acted only after careful and thorough consideration and in a way that was consistent with your personal set of values.
Transparent leaders don’t cultivate a culture of fear. They open the floor for collaboration and success by leading with their values and expecting their team to follow.
Back to the Boardroom
So, to bring this core value of transparency back to the boardroom:
In our business, my partners and I have known one another and worked together for a long time and we are extremely transparent with one another and our employees.
We make sure our employees observe us interacting, making decisions, and running the business. By now, they know we’ll always be working in lockstep, committed to always doing the right thing. I believe this gives them a sense of comfort and security and engenders a great deal of trust.
Transparency breeds community and a community with like values breeds success. Forming a team with consistent value systems that encourages transparency is the quickest way to find success for your business. So, always be willing to leave your ego at the door – but never your values.