Accountable Leadership…Closing The Values Gap

I received a question recently from someone online, a question that gave me pause. He wanted my insights on how he could find the right employer in his chosen field, an organization driven by strong values.

Photo by Danielle MacInnes on Unsplash

This is a very important issue, one that is all the more essential to consider closely because, as this man pointed out, most of the companies in his industry seemed to lack a coherent guiding set of values. Indeed, most companies in any industry, in my experience, either have no stated values or have stated values that are not actually lived on a day-to-day basis. Sometimes we think we are living the values, but we are not, and we do not even realize it. How much damage do we do as leaders when we say, for instance, that “transparency” is one of our values — and then we find reasons to justify “white lies” to the employees, the customers, and the stakeholders we are supposed to be serving? The sad truth is that there is a values gap in most workplaces. What we say is driving us does not match up with our actions and decisions.

The answer to the difficult question of how to find an employer of integrity, an employer with values that match up with ours, consists of two steps.

  • First, clearly identifying our own values, and then…
  • Second, looking for an individual (not a company) who shares those values, whom we respect as a leader, and whom we know we want to work for. This does not necessarily mean we must report directly to this person, but it does mean that we know that our values match up with this person’s and that we believe in and can commit to their cause.

As you carry out these steps, remember that what you value is what you hold to be most important in your life — so important that if you were to lose it, you would move heaven and earth to get it back, restore it, and bring it back to its central position in your experience as a human being.

A great example of someone with unshakeable values who also inspires people to want to work for him is Pat Hickman, chairman and CEO of Happy State Bank.  That bank’s list if stated values includes things like:

  • Customer Service is THE GOAL.
  • Attitude is everything.
  • Family First.
  • Treat every co-owner as well as you treat your best customer.
  • Prayer is OK—it’s even encouraged.
  • TALK to each other—Communication.
  • Sometimes we make a mistake. Admit it & fix it—Fast.
  • Give back. Get involved in your community

Anyone who knows anything about Pat knows that he not only “endorses” these core values — and all the other core values Happy State proclaims — he lives them, day in and day out. He is the primary role model, the primary example for employees, and everyone else, of how those values play out in the workplace. It is not enough to put those values on a poster. Leaders have to prove, time and time again, that the stated values are who they really are. Proving that is what makes them leaders, in the most meaningful sense of that word.

Pat is fond of saying, “People don’t work for Happy State Bank. They work for me.” He is absolutely right.

So here is my advice. Take some time. Figure out what your own values are. (And, If you would like some assistance, download my free Values Worksheet.) Identify what matters most to you in life. Is it service? Contribution? Integrity? Then, when you find a leader who inspires you, a leader whose values you are absolutely certain align with yours, make the case to work at that organization…and keep on trying until you get in.

Remember: Creating accountable relationships always starts with the person in the mirror.

It is always up to us. What matters is what we believe about other people, and the choices we make as a result of those beliefs. Every day, we choose to take on (or not take on) commitments that affect our relationships with others. Our commitments are represented in our values, and our values show up in our actions. Act in accordance with your own values…and look for individual leaders who are worthy of the title “leader,” because they consistently act in accordance with the same values.  That is who you want to work for.


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