Doing the Right Thing When No One is Looking

At a recent leadership workshop, we found ourselves in a discussion about values and whether or not a leader can embrace two sets — one for the office and another for outside the office. We were surprised with the number of young leaders in attendance who believed it to be OK to compartmentalize their lives into what we classify as situational and absolute values. The two camps were polar opposites. The discussion was lively and the room was surprisingly divided.

Those in favor of situational values were convinced that they could embrace two sets of values. They were driven by their lifestyle and considered the job as a means to an end. They claimed to embrace company values while on the job, but were quick to replace those values outside the workplace. We heard an acquiescence to walk the talk with company values out of necessity. Outside of the workplace, the façade was replaced with a carpe diem, anything goes attitude. The consensus with this group was that lives could be compartmentalized with little or no ramification. No one would notice. This group tended to be new, first time leaders.

Those opposed to situational values embraced the notion that great leaders consistently walk the talk with their personal, core values. To these leaders, “birds of a feather generally flock together” and consistency really matters. Values for this group are an absolute. Where there is conflict with company values, personal values are paramount and a job change may be necessary. This group tended to be experienced leaders.

We believe that great leaders live by an absolute set of core values, 24/7. These individuals are hard wired to “walk the talk”. Level Five leaders, in addition to having a good dose of humility and persistence, are also values-based. As you have heard us say before, the leader “sets the azimuth” for the team. In our experience, this always includes leading from the front with values. Whether we like it or not, leaders live in a glass house and are watched all the time. You never know when you are being watched. Team members will be very quick to identify the leader who believes that situational values are OK. When this happens, the leader will no longer be effective, the company’s stated values will be rendered meaningless, and the culture will quickly erode. How many times have you seen this happen?

Does your organization identify and bring its values to life? Do team members walk the talk and “do the harder right rather than the easier wrong?” In your organization, are new recruits assessed to see if they are hardwired with stated values before they are hired? Do your leaders set the example? Are your company values and culture ruthlessly protected? Are team members who come up short on values held to a timely account? What is the health of your team?