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Our leaders don’t behave our values - what can we do?

Last month we looked at how to integrate your values into your organisation – and we emphasised the importance of getting your leaders on-board to ‘walk the talk’. But what happens when they don’t – or even do the very opposite – what can you do?

This is one of the most common questions we get asked. It’s hard for an organisation trying to build a healthy culture when the leaders pay the organisational values lip service but don’t actually behave them.

How your leaders can undermine your values

When leaders feel that the values don’t really apply to them, it sends out a loud message that the values aren’t really important. This can have a knock-on detrimental effect. People will slowly forget about them, dismiss them and won’t hold each other to account on behaving them. ‘If the leaders don’t do it - why should we?’

If your values are designed to support the development of your culture (hint - they should!) then having leaders that don’t behave them sends a message that there is one rule for the leadership and a different rule for everyone else. This creates both resentment and a ‘them and us’ barrier and can also encourage less competent people to go for promotion under the perception that they can do what they want once they get into a leadership position.

Staff can, sometimes unfairly, hold leaders to a higher standard than they would themselves. They will pick on every instance the leader was a bit grumpy with someone. When difficult organisational decisions are made it is easy to see them as a violation of the values, as they are subjective and how you view the decision and the motives of the leader are often subject to perception.

Creating leadership cohesion around values

You can’t give them a personality transplant (as much as you might want to!) – so how can you achieve cohesion? Here are some tips from organisations who have done this successfully:

  • Involve your leaders in the process of creating your values. Don’t be afraid to hold reviews to make sure they are still on board and feel they can live by them. Don’t stick to a value if the leaders genuinely don’t like it, this sets the ground for future problems, find a word they are OK with.
  • Make sure your leaders use the language of your values in their communication. Sometimes leaders need to explicitly say ‘This is an example of our value of Respect’ for people to get a diverse range of examples of how values can be behaved.
  • When decisions are made and communicated, make sure that any conflicts in the organisational values are explained. For example, if you have a value of Building a Sustainable Business and a value of People First, and you’ve just had to give people a less than a great pay rise, explain that in the decision you put Sustainable Business first and why. The explanation does not need to be detailed, just remember that your staff was not present at all the meetings you had to discuss this, so can you summarise it in a way that reflects your values? It also helps people to understand that sometimes values are in conflict and a choice needs to be made about which one is more important right now.
  • Make sure that either your internal coaches or external providers have the skills to explore personal values. Many leaders now have coaching, make sure that values (yours and theirs) are covered by the coach. This can help leaders to understand where their own personal values may conflict with the organisation’s and under what circumstances. A good coach can help them to navigate this in a way that works for everyone.

In conclusion

A lot can rest on the shoulders of your leaders when it comes to your values. We expect them to ‘walk the talk’ but, like all of us – they are human, they may have a difference of opinion so may not always follow through with their own behaviour. The damage comes when others either interpret this behaviour as their excuse to behave the same way or start to resent what they see as ‘one rule for them’ culture.

You can get your leaders on board with values by involving them, making adjustments where necessary and focusing on how they refer to values in their communication with employees. People look to their leaders for an example to follow – and that’s a part of the responsibility of being a leader. So the more they are lived by example (by leaders and the influential impact this then has on others), the more they’ll become a part of what you do every day.

For further information

One of the ways you can help your leaders embrace your values is to cover this as part of any coaching programme. If you are looking to select an external coach, you may want to download our free guide, Selecting a coach – the industry secrets you need to know.

We also support leaders to reach their full potential as part of our Leadership Development programmes.

How Can We help?

How else can we help?

If you’d like our support in making these ideas work for you and your business, please get in touch.

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