Leadership, Resources

The Cost of Values

What are your values costing you?

In recent weeks I’ve been in conversation with several charity leaders who are facing some difficult situations with no clear way forward. Competing priorities, complex problems, and COVID fatigued people conspire against familiar solutions. It’s just hard.

So where do we start?

There are several options, but when facing the greatest leadership challenges the wisest leaders look to values.

As much as poorly thought out and poorly articulated values are deserving of the derision they almost always receive from team members; properly conceived values are of great use to an organization in tough times.

(I recommend Patrick Lencioni’s approach to understanding and identifying 4 Types of Values.)

The thing we too often forget is that the word values implies that these things come at a cost. Organizational values are usually convictions that will help you succeed, but they prove themselves when you are willing to sacrifice some success, expense, or comfort to embody them. True values aren’t honoured because they “work”, but because we prioritize them over alternatives that might have some advantages, particularly in the short term.

If you value transparency you will share your failures openly and explicitly.

If you value efficiency you will release employees who can’t keep up.

If you value community you will slow decision making until everyone has participated.

If you value excellence you will not accept shortcuts even when they save time and money.

If you value innovation you will budget for repeated failed attempts.

Under the pressures we are facing this year there are many temptations to address problems in ways that prioritize something different than the values we promote. When we take those options we reveal that we aren’t truly committed to the cost of our values. We also set a precedent for future compromises.

We often need to hold our values in tension. They don’t always point explicitly to a single golden path forward. Resolving those tensions is part of the work of leadership, particularly in times like these. But it is only those among us who do that hard work, demonstrating real willingness to live out our values, that will see ourselves and our organizations emerge from troubles with a deep sense of integrity intact.

Here are some practical tips on committing to values that will serve you well.

And if I can help you resolve the tensions let’s set up a conversation.

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