In my last article, I discussed what Values Based Leadership (VBL) was and why you should practice it. No theory, no recommendation, no principles matter if leaders aren’t prepared to “walk the talk”. Similarly, with VBL, if leaders aren’t prepared to live the values every day, VBL will never succeed in your organization. But what does walking the talk, or living the values, look like? I will share a couple of real examples that have stayed with me over the years where I watched VBL in action.
One example: An entry level employee had decided one day to violate a company policy and then come to management and complain that they suffered some damage to their personal property while violating the policy and wanted compensation for those damages. In review of the complaint, not only was it impossible for the damages to occur during that activity, but even more importantly, the employee did not have permission to do what they did and it clearly violated a written policy. The manager denied compensation for the alleged damages. This employee was naturally frustrated, went home that evening and took to social media to share his feelings not only about his manager, but about the company. He made derogatory remarks about both. The following morning, the marketing manager who oversaw the company’s social media sites, brought the post to our attention. We brought the employee to the wall where we had our values proudly displayed, which included:
- …”a positive mindset coupled with an unrelenting work ethic…”
- …”we will succeed by working together as one team…”
- …”we accept accountability for our actions and our results…”
While facing the values wall, we asked the employee to share with us which one of our values does his post from the night before align with. Dumbfounded, he just stood there staring at the wall. Then the manager said “you’re fired”.
Another example: I received complaints about a member of a leadership team whom employees were fearful of. He spoke aggressively, intimidated employees, didn’t work collaboratively with other departments, and overall created an atmosphere of hostility in his department and other departments that worked with him. We conducted an investigation and while he denied the allegations, the language in our values were very clear:
- …”we are genuine, open, direct and respectful…”
- …”we are inclusive and work together with confidence and trust…”
- …”we are trusted to do the right thing…”
While this leader was integral to the daily operation of the business, as well as a pending physical move to a new location, the President came to the conclusion he had no choice but to terminate this leader to ensure the organization understood we live the values, no matter what.
Another example: On a scheduled day off, an employee walked into the company which had a small retail section on premises, and openly took $400 worth of product. Two employees at work at the time witnessed this. The next day one of those witnesses came forward to tell us what he saw. We conducted an investigation, including reviewing video footage and interviewing the witnesses and it was clear the employee took the products. The easy decision was terminating the one employee who stole. One of the witnesses (not the one that came forward) said he did not see anything. Video surveillance suggested otherwise. The manager decided to also terminate the second employee who witnessed the theft but wouldn’t come forward, for not living the values:
- …”we stand for honesty, loyalty and humility in everything we do…”
- …”what we do when no one is looking defines us…”
These are all great examples of walking the talk – leaders having the courage to live the values and set an example to the rest of the organization that they mean what is written on the walls. Every decision like these contributes to molding the clay of the culture you want to create.