Our So-Called Values Part 1 – Why they fail us and what to do about it

Your values are your beliefs, defined by how you consistently live them. They are inherently neither good nor bad, just genuine. For example, your values might center around greed, money and power. If so, my message is of no use to you. I am focusing on the kinds of values that will help you be sustainably successful – like: integrity, respect, and authenticity.

The impact your values have on your business and your leadership is pervasive. It’s incalculable. The values you choose to live define you – visibly and subconsciously – whether you know it or not and whether you believe it or not. Harnessing the power of values is fundamental to the quality of your leadership and the sustainability of your success.

How Our Values Are Tested:

Adversity, the crisis of the moment, short-term needs that conflict with your vision and your long-term objectives test the validity of what you say are your values – those lofty words on wall plaques – intended to define you, but too often turned into the basis of public anger  when a few people clearly march to a different drum beat. When that happens, oftentimes some bad PR makes people wonder whether you are apologizing for your behavior or for getting caught.

Five Reasons We Fail:

Here are the primary reasons why our (supposed) values fail us. Actually, my title has it backward. Our values don’t fail us – we fail them. What makes us believe that we have certain core values and that we faithfully live them – except when we don’t?

  1. We don’t hold people (including ourselves) measurably accountable for living them – and there are no consequences for not living them, even when everyone sees that our failure has caused significant consequences.
  2. We live our values situationally. We choose when they apply and when they don’t. When we do that, those proclaimed beliefs are no longer our values – they are our strategies.
  3. We apply our values selectively. Some people are held accountable; some are not. When that happens, we become hypocrites in the eyes of others. The price for hypocrisy is the loss of trust. Do you trust hypocrites?
  4. There is a lack of constant awareness on the part of too many people as to what our values are, what they mean and how they must permeate everyone’s behavior all the time, in every interaction, under all circumstances.
  5. We live them conditionally – I will honor my values ONLY if you treat me that way in return. When that occurs, what happens is that other people control our conduct – we are actually living THEIR values, not our own.
What you can do:

If you haven’t already done so, put your intended values in writing. Define them as you interpret how you want to live them. Then, begin conversations with your people at all levels. Ask them if they think that those are the values you actually live every day. And ask them if they believe that everyone is held accountable for living them; and what happens when people don’t live your stated values.

If there are no surprises, congratulate yourself; you’re in a small minority of organizations. On the other hand, there’s a good chance that your people are telling you what they think you want to hear. Then what?

I will address all of these elements and how to deal with them in more detail in the continuing series. I’ll start by giving you some ideas about how to create a culture of accountability. The approach may surprise you. Stay tuned.


Bill Leider

Bill is a Managing Partner at Axies Group – a consulting firm, focused primarily on helping leaders develop Balanced Organizations, focused on Vision, Values, Values-driven leadership, Culture, Strategy and Greater Purpose. Clients range from Fortune 500’s to mid-size companies to start-ups in many industries He has also been the CEO of both publicly held and privately owned companies. His book: Brand Delusions looks at Brands from a holistic perspective and has been critically acclaimed. You can learn more about him at: www.axiesgroup.com.





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