Why Knowing Your Core Values Makes You a Better Leader

At Earls, we are discussing our core values as a company. Here’s a post that I shared internally around my discovery of the importance of knowing my values and why they matter.

“With any person, there are two things that you cannot negotiate with them on – their values and their feelings.” This was said to me by Brian, one of my best friends, over wine as I was heeding advice a few years back.  Hearing this gave me greater insight that knowing and being able to identify when my values are at play makes me a stronger leader.

My first insight around values goes back to a conversation with my mentor when I was in my mid-twenties. At the time, I was at the helm of a company of about 20 people. I was hired to afford a husband and wife team the ability to step away from the daily operation of their business after 25 years. My mentor was a founder himself and was passing the reigns of his company over to a younger partner in his firm.

Every two weeks or so for months, I’d make my way to the Marriott Hotel on Pender Street in Vancouver and sit in a high-backed, pastel suede booth for a breakfast date with my mentor.

I was failing in my role at the company that I was leading and not loving my job. I could make sustained changes in some areas, but in other areas make no progress at all. Revenue and profits were both healthy. The company was seeing strong year-over-year growth. Business development was strong,  we were attracting higher-profile clients with deeper pockets and diversifying our reliance on a few big accounts.

Despite all of this positive traction as a company, we were good at making mistakes. Significant sized errors happened too often. Making these mistakes was not a new trend, it was happening before I arrived. These errors caused setbacks, cost money to fix, were embarrassing to us, to our clients and caused tension internally. This was all a risk to the business health and our growth. The owners responded by giving me the advice of “manage more tightly."

The mistakes didn’t sit well with me. Tighter management was an option short-term to mitigate things but I didn't see it as the long-term solution.  I wanted to see that we got better but we were seemingly making the same errors again and again. I also wanted my team to become more disciplined as our mistakes were so preventable. I wanted people to be empowered rather than micromanaged to fix the issues.

It was over bitter coffee and marginally cooked hotel eggs that I discovered that I failed to learn the company’s core values and been solely leading with my personal values that I’d never clearly defined. This certainly didn’t mean that they didn’t exist - I was failing to lead from them overtly. We all know the power of clarity and I was unclear.

Why Values Matter

For us as people (and in our companies), our core values, govern our decisions, they are what we align our internal compass to. They rarely shift, or if they do, it’s likely only after a traumatic experience. Values are not aspirational, they “just are” and the most genuine values surface when things go wrong, or we are navigating rough seas.

I discovered that my core values are: Ingenuity, Cohesion, Realness, Progressing, Levity, Poise.

Values are "Uncompromising"

Why did the situation I was managing bother me? I learned later in life by a colleague Parker that “a complaint is an indicator of a value that is compromised.” We are unlikely to complain about something that we don’t care about and when we do complain there’s an underlying incompatibility to a value of ours. In this case, I was bothered we were making the same mistakes (progressing). It also bothered me that we weren't fixing them creatively (ingenuity), nor was our output matching our promise to our clients (cohesion). To this day, I leverage the lesson; when I'm frustrated, I look to see what value of mine isn't being fulfilled.

In the end, I chose to leave the organisation a year or so after we did an internal values definition workshop. My values and the company's values were too far apart for natural alignment. It was too difficult to make quality decisions that served the organization's values that were aligned with my own. 

We will experience this throughout our careers. Sometimes this will factor into relationships between close friends or siblings where it's apparent that values differ significantly in specific areas. It's in these times that we need to leverage the clarity of our values to help us navigate.

What Do You Value?

Ask yourself this, what do you value? What qualities or characteristics would you describe as being fundamental to who you are? What are your company’s values? How do they align and where do they conflict? The power to know ourselves gives us the ability to lead strongly and lead well. 

Reach out to me as I'd love to hear them.