One thing that I believe is immutable is that a leader gets the organization they deserve. If you’re not happy with your company, it’s your fault. You’ve set that reality in motion, either by hiring people that aren’t congruent with your values or by not taking action when your values are violated. What this assumes is that you, as a leader, have defined and articulated clear values to your team.For the first half of my tenure as a CEO, I hadn’t articulated clear values to my company. But, what I didn’t realize is that values aren’t developed, they are surfaced. It took me nine years to figure that out. It was 2009, we were in the recession and I was in Las Vegas, on vacation reading Tony Hsieh’s book, Delivering Happiness. Tony is the founder of Zappos and in the book he talks about core values at Zappos and shares techniques for surfacing your company values. As I was reading the book I became intrigued and excited. It finally occurred to me, nine years into building ShipCompliant, that we were a values-led organization, we just hadn’t articulated, surfaced, or written those values down.
This realization allowed me to look back over the previous nine years and see situations differently. Like when I had a member of my team who was delivering the results, but I couldn’t stand how they were delivering those results, how they were treating the team, or how they were treating the customer. It was tough to define. There wasn’t a number, the employee was meeting the number, but their method was making my blood boil and I could never put my finger on it. In those situations, I was slow to act. I’d have self-doubt because I would see the results, and think “this is on me, this has to be some issue that I have, not an issue with the person.” When, in reality, what I stood for and what the company stood for, was being violated.
What became clear, once I began to surface and socialize the company values, is that by doing so, we were able to hold ourselves and others accountable to what we stand for. We were able to make decisions consistently and with reason. Prior to coming to this realization of surfacing and writing down and defining our values, all of that responsibility was on my shoulders. It was impossible to scale that responsibility when it was defined by my own gut. Through the process of becoming a values-led organization, I began to empower others to make decisions, to surface issues, to send the company in certain directions, in ways that were congruent with what I stood for and what the company stood for.
If you’re a leader and you’re committed to running a values-led organization — and when I say committed — you need to be living proof of those values. Whatever it is that you end up surfacing as what you and your company stand for, you don’t make exceptions. You can’t make exceptions. If you find yourself making exceptions then you’ve chosen the wrong values.
The impact of values goes far beyond just the experience you have day in and day out in your organization. Being clear and proud about what it is that you stand for and sharing that with the rest of the world is transformative and empowering.