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Putting Values First: What it Means to be a Values-Based Leader

When you think of a company like Patagonia, you know just what it stands for: a serious commitment to sustainability and the outdoors. This is no accident. The messaging of a company like Patagonia comes from the top and filters through the entire organization—and from there into the minds of customers. It's an example of values-based leadership in action.

What makes values-based leaders different

Most business leaders at least give lip service to upholding a set of values. Values-based leaders articulate their values clearly and consistently, both inside and outside of the company, and they use those values to build relationships and guide important decisions. They understand that values can be an important motivator for people, and that operating from a shared set of core values fosters cohesiveness and loyalty.

Benefits of values-based leadership

  • A framework for decision making. Business decisions become easier when you operate from a clearly defined set of values. For example, when you're looking to hire new employees, you can eliminate candidates who don't share your company's values and focus on those who do. That process leads to yet more benefits: By determining if a candidate is the right fit based on values, you increase the chances of hiring people who feel invested in your business. Over the long term, more employee buy-in could result in less turnover.
  • Greater trust. Adopting values-based leadership can create a positive organizational culture by building trust in leadership and among employees. For example, highlighting transparency and accountability as part of your organization’s core values can help establish protocols for communication and dealing with conflict. This approach creates an environment where staff members feel comfortable addressing difficult issues.
  • Clear messaging. When you state your values clearly inside your business, it's easier to convey those values to partners and customers outside your business. You'll attract partners who want to work with you, and customers who appreciate your ethics. When customers recognize their own values in a company they trust, they're more likely to stay loyal over time.
  • Positive outcomes. Values-based leaders don't ignore the bottom line—they simply understand that the bottom line is intrinsically connected to the values that drive their company's actions. With employees who are motivated to contribute and collaborate, partners that align with your company's vision and customers who appreciate what you stand for as an organization, better business outcomes tend to be the result.

Where to start

Becoming a values-based leader starts with reflection. Take time to look at your own values honestly, and decide which to center in your business. The particular values you choose will depend on who you are as a person and what type of company you lead. Do you want to highlight accountability, honesty and transparency? Passion, innovation and fun? Sustainability and environmental friendliness?

Be as specific as possible as you list your values. Almost all business leaders at least claim to value integrity, for example, but what does integrity really mean to you and your business? Develop your list of core values into a concise and impactful values statement. Then solicit feedback from employees, customers and partners. Use this feedback to develop a final statement.

Going forward, think of your values statement as a living document, one that is likely to evolve over time. Consider revisiting your statement once a year, and seek input from employees about where you’re living up to your values and where you’re falling short.

Without a set of clearly defined values, your business might struggle to connect with employees and clients. Adopting a values-based leadership approach can give your company direction, create a strong organizational culture and help you create an identity that customers connect with.