What is the most important thing in life to you? When your life is over and you look back—what do you want to be known for? The answers to these questions are visible today in the productivity and profitability of your company. There is a connection between the values that you hold—your character—and the productivity or success of your company.
Character—Who are you? What is important to you? To what are you committed? What promises are you making? What gods do you follow? The answers to these questions define our character—that unique mix of beliefs, commitments, promises, and passions that form our personal being.
Our character is reflected in our values. Who we are is defined by what we hold dear. This is the beginning of leadership. The gods we choose to follow—the beliefs and commitments that frame our understanding of life—shape the person that we are; the values that we live are an expression of our character.
Leadership— Kouzes and Posner, in their excellent book Credibility, demonstrate that leadership flows from the character of the leader. Leadership is a relationship of influence in which one person seeks to influence the beliefs, values, behaviours, or actions of another. Leadership is always a relationship between two people in which the follower chooses to accept the influence of the leader.
Research suggests that people choose to follow people of character. Who you are makes a difference. Your values are an expression of your character. People follow people of character—people with credibility—people with integrity whose actions are in line with their stated values. Leadership flows from character. Your values shape the relationships of leadership.
Culture— And your leadership embeds values in the culture of your company. Every organization has a culture—the uniquely shaped mix of assumptions, experience, and accumulated history that unconsciously governs “the way things are done” in the organization—the behaviours and practices of the people. Culture is to organizations as character is to people—the deeply held values that shape our behaviour.
Edgar Schein, in Organizational Culture and Leadership, argues that the one thing of unique importance that leaders do is to create and reinforce culture. That is the legacy of leadership. Everything that leaders do and say underlines what is important. Over time the values that shape your leadership will become embedded in your organization and affect the behaviours of the people.
I like to tell leaders that I can see what is important to them—what gods they follow—by watching the behaviours of their people at work. There is a direct connection. Who you are—what you value—reinforces the culture and shapes the behaviour of those who look to you for leadership.
Work Environment— That means your values have a direct impact on employee satisfaction and fulfillment because the work environment experienced by employees is shaped by the cultural assumptions that control their working relationships. Leaders set the tone for their organizations. People working at every level look for signals from their environment about how to behave and how much they are valued. How people experience their work—its context and its value—directly affects their sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, which of course is immediately tied to employee retention.
Productivity— And as we would expect, the retention of satisfied, fulfilled employees tends to result in satisfied customers, which leads to productivity and profitability. Joseph Maciariello, in his monograph Work and Human Nature, makes this connection clear in his study of ServiceMaster. He traces the recognized success and profitability of this international public company to the employees who find encouragement and fulfillment in the work environment produced by the corporate culture. Maciariello actually traces the causal connection back from the organizational culture to the leadership of the CEO whose values are explicitly shaped by the God he chooses to follow.
Bottom Line— There is a continuum that runs from character to productivity. Who you are and what you believe make a difference to those who look to you for leadership. The values you live will reach the bottom line of your company.
So who are you? What values do you live? What is important to you? The people who look to you for leadership already know!
- Don Cohen and Laurence Prusak, In Good Company: How Social Capital Makes Organizations Work (Harvard Business School Press, 2001).
- James M. Kouzes and Barry Z. Posner, Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It (Jossey-Bass, 1993).
- Joseph A. Maciariello, Work & Human Nature: Leadership and Management Practices at ServiceMaster and The Drucker Tradition (De Pree Leadership Center, 2002).
- Edgar H. Schein, Organizational Culture and Leadership, Second Edition (Jossey-Bass, 1992).