Why Values Based Leadership Matters

If you haven’t already read the "Systems Breed Magic Manifesto", I highly recommend you read that first. 

You will learn why we love family business. Here's the long and the short of it: we love families and we love businesses. We believe they both need to be thought of as systems to be successful.  

So why do values matter? 

Values are one of the key subsystems inside a business (and a family). They are there even if you haven’t articulated them AND they are determining how the system is being run, whether you like it or not. 

Start by spending some time in self-reflection on what you actually value, then ensure that your business and your life are in alignment with those values. Without doing this you will be on a pathway to misery, without being able to quite put your finger on what is causing the misery. 

Does this situation sound familiar? 

When recruiting for a job you know the role that they need to do, but there’s something "else" you’re looking for. Something that doesn’t quite fit into the job description. Something you can't quite find the right words for… That’s because you’re looking for someone who shares your values.

Take The Right Actions And Get The Results You Want

Values aren’t what you SAY they are what you DO.

Even more, they are what OTHER people say you do... the outward manifestation of our values.

They are how you interface with the world, even when no one is watching. 

One of my favourite perspectives about this is illustrated within Chapter 5 of Brené Brown's Daring Greatly. 

Brené shares the story of parents telling their kids that honesty and integrity are important and that stealing and cheating is intolerable. At the end of a long day they all go to the grocery store. When they are done and the car is packed the parents realise that the cashier forgot to charge them for the items that were at the bottom of the shopping trolley. 

“Oh well," the parent thinks, "it’s not my fault, they’re making a mint anyway."  

Kids, staff and friends learn about our values from what we DO... not what we SAY. We role model our values. If these parents really wanted to share their values of honesty and integrity then they would have gone back and paid for it. Principles are really only principles if they cost you something, whether that be time, energy, money or pride. That’s how you demonstrate what is truly important and who you are. 

On the Daily Stoic podcast, Ryan Holiday interviewed Poker World Champion Annie Duke on Choosing Truth. Annie made the comment that the road to failure is paved with exceptions. Making exceptions is inevitable from time to time... but is it really an exception? The next time you make an exception take a moment to dive into greater self-awareness.


Ask yourself, “How many times have I made an exception lately?”

Answer truthfully.

Making exceptions with your values demonstrates that they aren’t really values at all, they are just ideas of something you think might be good. And there’s no power in that.

Daring Greatly Book

How To Take The First Steps Toward Values Based Leadership

1. Get clear on your organization's values.

Start by reviewing where you are at right now with these two questions:

  • What are the things that make you feel proud of your company and/or yourself? 
  • In the last last month (or longer), what specific events, interactions or outcomes has made you feel proud? 

Review your list to gain a fuller understanding of what your underlying values are. 

Was it that someone went above and beyond to get the job done?


Was it that you noticed someone paying attention to details even though they didn’t think anyone was watching?
Was it a story about your team members looking out for one another outside of work? 

That’s the easy part out of the way, now for the more complex questions that will be a true guiding light to your values… 

Why? 

Why did they make you feel proud? and Why did these events occur? 

What about team members look out for one another makes you proud? Was it that you value the workplace as a third space where lifelong friendships are forged? Is it that they are more likely to cover for one another at work? What about the even made you feel pride? 

Next, why did the event occur in the first place? What were the motivations behind the employee?

If someone is going above and beyond to get the job done, was it because they cared about the customer... or do they fear losing their job?
Do they take pride in their work... or are they scared someone will yell at them?

Be honest with yourself.
If you don’t know the answer, it's time for some genuine humility. Give your employees a safe opportunity share their viewpoints.*** in a way that allows them to feel in collaboration with you, and the bigger picture. 

If you understand what is motivating the behaviours you want to see more of you will have a much clearer picture of what your business values already.

You might discover that some things need to change. If you're seeing the result you want but for the wrong reasons this might be the starting point for your business's cultural transformation.

The great news is you know that your business is capable of the result. If you can change the WHY behind it, then it will be more sustainable; you’ll have more employee engagement; better retention and the likelihood of the behaviour spreading is much higher.

If you aren't seeing the result you want at all, it might be time to assess the systems and scoreboards of your business. We can help with that. [Link to book free assessment]

This brings us to the next tricky question. 

What are you willing to give up in order to live these values? 

Can you think of a situation where it will cost you something to uphold a value that you claim to hold dear? 

Maybe it’s noticing that a staff member is really focused on the quality of the product. Do you want everyone to be as focused as this person? Will that mean you make less stuff or, will that mean you need to serve less clients, or maybe even hire more staff? Really think about scenarios that may lead to short term pain to uphold the values. This is where you will be tested and measured. If you can be seen to be upholding your values no matter what then that is the most powerful display employees can ever see. 

Being a values based leader is the animation of what you believe is important. They will know that the values aren’t just corporate jargon and copies of your values statement posted on the wall but what you actually stand for. What everyone at your company stands for. 

And that is a powerful thing indeed. 


2. Set Clear Goals and Priorities

You have taken an inventory of your current behaviours and motivations, and the company values that are being lived in your organisation. 

All businesses have weaknesses, but you are taking stock of yours! The best kind of leader keeps an open mind, and helps keep the team directed to their true north. 

Now you ask, where do I want us to be? 

Verne Harnish has written a great book called “Scaling Up”. It is a continuation of his earlier classic called “Mastering The Rockefeller Habits”. In short, The Rockefeller Habits are a list of routines that John D. Rockefeller (and many other incredibly successful business owners) put in place to ensure they could scale their companies to great heights. 

One of the ten habits in the list is: “Core values and purpose are “alive” in the organization”

So that’s where you start. Articulating your core values. Knowing what you stand for and understanding the lengths you are willing to go to prove it.

3. Create an Implementation Plan

How can you bring about the innovation of your values within your business? 

Zappos is a powerful example. They have created a culture book which defines their core values and tells stories of how employees have implemented them on an individual level.

They have an interview question for each of their core values, placing a central importance on hiring new employees that are a good fit for their company culture. 

As you are considering how you can implement your values as part of your company's long term vision, ask yourself: 

  1. What will you do to recognise staff that live the principles of values that your company holds.

  2. How will you encourage all staff to display these values daily?

  3. How will you educate your customers on your values? PS. You will attract more customers that believe what you believe if your values are clear and demonstrated!

4. Communicate Your Plan

Once you have your starting plan, you need to communicate that plan.
How is each person in the organisation going to be affected by the implementation of the values?
What is their role in bring them to life? 

Communication is about finding shared meaning. Core values need to be demonstrated and steadfast, for sure. That being said, you don’t want to alienate good people simply because you haven’t communicated why you're doing what you're doing and how your staff matter in the process.

5. Be Willing to Fail and Change

Finally, you need to be willing to fail and willing to change. You won’t always get things right. What is important is that you own up to your missteps and fix them quickly. People are generally reasonable and keeping open communication, especially in times of change, can be one of the best ways to keep the wheels on the bus. 

As time goes on there may be a need to re-evaluate your values. If the values you claim to hold dear are not being demonstrated then it can have very negative effects. You need to be able to walk the talk. If you can’t, re-evaluate and choose values that you can uphold over a long-term perspective. There’s no shame in failure. Your regular self-reflection and continuous improvement will be two of your most positive contributions to your business. 

Being a successful leader who lives the positive values of your organisation can be one of your most effective leadership tools. 


If you are a family business owner who wants to develop true self-confidence that you are working towards building an asset for yourself and your family, maybe we can help. Book a free consultation with us to see if we are a good fit for helping you grow the sustainability of your company, and achieve your ideal work life balance with systems.

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