Does your company have a set of official values? Do you know what they are? Does it matter to you whether you know what they are?

Does it matter to you whether you, and the people around you, are demonstrating those values? Does it matter to you whether those values are in line with your values?

For some people, company values are a bit like office wall art – nice to have, but not to be taken too seriously. (And that’s ironic, as they sometimes do end up as office wall art.)

I was recently looking at employee engagement company 6Q’s blog post listing examples of various big-name companies’ values. As I read them, I noticed that SouthWest Airlines had 21 values. Yes, you read that right, 21 values.

I first came across SouthWest Airlines late 1990s when learning about the Service Profit Chain – a simple, elegant, and ultimately tough-minded way to build profitability in a service business. Back then, SouthWest Airlines were knowing for reinventing air travel with planes painted like killer whales, zero in-flight meals and people hired first and foremost for their sense of humour.

I’m not saying that any of SouthWest Airlines 21 values are not good – or even – great values; but I believe there are simply too many; and my frustration grows as I read through them, what does “Display urgency!” actually mean in practice? “Be a passionate Teamplayer”? How?

How do any of these value statements explain how one is expected to lead, serve customers, or act as an employee?

And how, if you are a leader in that business do those values make you feel more – or less – committed to it? How do they inspire you to ‘go the extra mile’?

[A side note here, to clarify what a value actually is – a huge amount of time is often spent in business trying to define what values are, as opposed to beliefs or principles: A value is a feeling or quality that is defined by a thought; whereas a belief is the opposite: it is a thought or idea that is powered by emotion.  For a full definition, I recommend looking at the explanation by Dr Alan Watkins in his excellent book, “Coherence – The Secret Science of Brilliant Leadership.” In it, he describes values and beliefs as being both clusters of thinking and feeling, with the degrees varying in each.]

Obviously, developing a set of company values is best done by senior leadership proactively involving staff in the process of creating them; however for leaders to be able to do this, for them to be able to bring them to lift, to earn and sustain their credibility, they need to clarify their own values and beliefs first.

How often is it that senior leadership takes the time to clarify their own values, before embarking on an initiative to define a collection of company values?

One piece of research by Kouzes and Posner shows that leaders must be clear about the core principles that guide them in their work and personal life if they are to feel, and be, committed to the organisation for which they work:

[Using a scale of 1 to 7, with 1 indicting low commitment and 7 indicating high commitment, Kouzes and Posner found that highest level of commitment comes when an individual has clarity about both the organisation values and his/her own personal values]

Therefore, very first step on the journey towards exemplary leadership is clarifying your values – discovering those fundamental beliefs that will guide your decisions and actions along the path to success and significance.

 Here are some pointers for clarifying values and finding your voice:

  • Identify the values you use to guide choice and decisions
  • Find your own authentic way of talking about what is important to you – so if you weren’t there, your team would know what and how to do things
  • Help others articulate why they do what they do and what they care about
  • Provide opportunities for people to talk about their values with others on the team – generate an ongoing discussion around them.

So, even if you do know what your company’s set of official values are, as a leader, you can’t be credible if you don’t know what you believe in, what you stand for.

At JMA Leadership we work with leaders to help them identify their core values and to work out:

  • What they believe is right & wrong
  • What they believe needs to change
  • What they believe an ideal future looks like
  • What they believe people are capable of
  • What they believe motivates people.

Why is this important? Because, knowing your core values and having your thinking clear on your own personal answers to the above questions is critical to your foundation as a credible leader

Values shape our behaviours, and it is the choice you make with your behaviours which enables you to build trust, develop strong relationships and successful teams, and ultimately, achieve the impact and outcomes that you seek – in business, and in life.

To find out more, get in touch via or call us on 01604 607738.