Some people see across the boundary of experience and into the future. They believe that dreams can become realities. They open our eyes and lift our spirits. They build our trust and strengthen our relationships. They stand firm against the winds of resistance and give us courage to continue the quest. We call these people leaders. They take us to places we have never been before.
Exemplary leaders engage in practices that stand the test of time, the first being that they model the way. Exemplary leaders clarify their personal values and then express those values in their own style and voice, in thought and action. They then set the example by aligning their personal actions with shared values.
Find your values and your voice
Exemplary leaders have strong beliefs about matters of principle. People expect their leaders to speak out on matters of values and conscience. Nevertheless, how can you speak out if you don’t know what’s important to you? How can you show you care if you don’t know what you care about? To earn and sustain personal credibility, you must find your voice by clarifying your personal values and expressing them in your own style. By finding your voice, you take the first step in the journey to becoming a leader. By asking yourself what value you bring to your constituents, you stay at the leading edge.
Leaders are clear about the values and motivations that drive them. Values serve as guides. By identifying your values, you find your voice. The clearer you are about your values, the easier it is for you to stay on the path you have chosen. Values inform your decisions about what to do, when to say “yes” and when to say “no,” and why you make those decisions.
Learn to express your values in a way that is genuinely and authentically you. You must authentically communicate your beliefs in ways that uniquely represent who you are. You must interpret the lyrics and shape them into your own presentation so that others recognize that you’re the one who’s singing.
Set the example
Clarity about personal values is part of modeling the way for others. If you stand for some personal set of values, then the only person you’ll be leading will be yourself. When you lead a group or organization, you have to move from “what I believe” to “what we believe.”
We can’t impose values from the top. It either leads to compliance or rebellion. Values cannot be forced. They must be forged. Being clear about personal values allows us to detect where there are shared values in the community.
Discovering values that can be shared is the foundation for building productivity and genuine working relationships. Although leaders honor the diversity of their constituencies, they also stress their common values. Leaders build on agreement. They don’t worry about getting everyone to be in accord.
Tremendous energy is generated when individual, group, and institutional values are aligned. Commitment, enthusiasm, and drive are intensified, as people have reasons for caring about their work. When we care about what we are doing, we are more effective and satisfied. We experience less stress. Shared values are the internal compasses that enable us to act independently and interdependently—simultaneously.
Align personal actions with shared values
The most powerful thing a leader can do to mobilize others is to set the example by aligning personal actions with shared values. Leaders show up, pay attention, and participate directly in getting extraordinary things done. They show others by their own example that they are deeply committed to the values and aspirations they espouse. Leaders are measured by the consistency of their deeds and words—by walking the talk. Leading by example is how leaders make visions and values tangible. It is how they provide the evidence that they are committed and competent.
Leaders enact the meaning of the organization in every decision they make and in every step they take. Leaders understand that they bring shared values to life in a variety of settings—in staff meetings, one-on-one conferences, telephone calls, e-mails, sermons, and in visits with colleagues and constituents.
Show people what’s important by how you spend your time
How you spend your time is the single clearest indicator, especially to other people, about what’s important to you. Critical incidents chance occurrences, particularly at a time of stress and challenge, offer significant moments of learning for leaders. They are often the most dramatic sources of moral lessons about what we should value and how we should behave. They become stories that are passed down in the workplace.
Therefore, you might use an organizer or journal to assess your alignment with your principles. Every evening, ask, “What have I done today to demonstrates that this value is near and dear to me? What have I done inadvertently to demonstrate this is not a value for me? What do I need to do to more fully express my values?”
By daily clarifying and reaffirming your values, you strengthen your resolve to contribute.