Values-based leadership is built on the premise of defining which positive qualities are most important to you in your work, and how you want to lead with those qualities in mind. It’s about establishing personal guidelines that I call ‘rules of engagement’, which form the basis of company culture.
In the way I frame values-based leadership, there are some familiar traits such as acting with integrity, putting your ego behind you and making decisions for the good of all. But I also define it in some more specific ways – starting with what I call the ‘Four Be's’:
- Be of service Help other people to succeed;
- Be a guardian Keep everyone’s ego in check – including your own;
- Be generous Give freely to everyone of your attention and insights, and
- Be diligent Practice and promote fairness and equality in everything you do.
Working in tandem with those Four Be's are four attributes:
- Self-reflection If you see that your business is acting out of alignment with one of your values, are you able to self-reflect and self-correct?
- Grace Do you regularly create goodwill in your organisation by properly honouring and crediting people on your team?
- Agility Are you paving the way for others to succeed by providing them with the tools, teachings and resources they need?
- Responsible influence It’s very addictive to have people look up to you, and to be in control. But are you dealing with everyone in a careful, loving way?
Interweaved throughout those attributes and the Four Bes is a vital ingredient: gratitude. It’s not just about saying a cursory “thank you”. It’s about tangibly acknowledging other people – particularly their contributions at testing times: “I know you’ve done a lot of work on this project, and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it.” That’s a magnanimous act that recognises in a full and rounded way the feat that someone has accomplished.
Another critical dimension of gratitude is building around your people a culture of learning and development. That doesn’t just mean setting up a specific department to help advance people’s careers, but enabling employees to develop in their current roles, too. And that requires leaders to allow staff to make mistakes. When someone does make a mistake and part of a project doesn’t quite work out as envisioned, leaders must ensure that that person is not left to spiral into a pocket of shame – but is made part of a discussion that frames the circumstances as a learning experience.
Leaders are sometimes confused by how their people respond to high-pressure scenarios: “Why aren’t my staff working as fluidly as they should? Why are they always bickering? Why are they doing unproductive things and creating drama that doesn’t need to happen?” Very often, the answer is that those team members aren’t appreciating each other. And that prevents them from being truly effective.
A few years ago, I led a team through an epic merger between two, megalithic companies, and afterwards, everyone was pretty exhausted and not feeling the love. So, I brought in a regular, 20 to 30-minute Friday meeting where each individual could talk about a mistake they’d made, what they’d learned from it and how they’d corrected it.
At first, there was a lot of resistance: “Like, I’m going to tell my boss about something I did wrong?!” But I set the ball rolling with a mistake I’d made in a meeting, and so my entire team knew I’d flubbed this thing. Everyone laughed, and it cracked open the combination of humour and frankness I was looking for. If people didn’t want to talk about something work related, they could bring up something from their personal lives instead.
A major revelation that surfaced from one of those meetings was that an assistant to an assistant – a lovely, young woman in a junior role – had come up with a solution to a really big problem. When everyone applauded, you could feel the swell of gratitude in the room – an appreciation for the complex nature of the task and the effort it took.
Moments like that help to build confidence and team cohesion. And crucially, they allow us to be human. That sort of spirit is what has been largely missing from the modern workplace.