Values and the serving way

Values and the serving way

Welcome to the New Year and the season of resolutions! It’s a great time to look with fresh eyes at your organization’s standards and values. While it’s ultimately we leaders who lay out the path for others to follow, our entire enterprise must embrace and live by shared values. Values are everyone’s business, and everyone can become values-champions with all our stakeholders.

Values are the principles and practices, disciplines and habits that guide how we do what we do. Think of them as guardrails that set the boundaries for mission and vision. Values define performance and results, and shape behavior and relationships. Everyone looks to “the way we do things here” in order to assess themselves, each other, and their leaders. Above all, values have to be at the heart of the organization’s culture. They are how we walk together along the same path toward our great purpose.

1. Why should we honor our core values?

A values-first organizational culture is not just the way to our destination. Such a culture defines the destination itself. Though values-driven firms do produce superior results, our standards are not just means to an end; they are ends in themselves. In fact, servant-leaders are so passionate about core values that we’d rather pull the plug on our enterprises than betray these non-negotiables.

2. What about values violations?

We have to prepare for missing the mark because none of us is perfect. Servant-leaders assess actions that fall short of shared standards on the basis of explicitly defined values that are embedded throughout our systems and operations. Agreeing on clear expectations is the necessary starting point for engaging with followers who have failed, perhaps unintentionally, to live up to the enterprise’s values. Servant-leaders have the courage to  apply values consistently, even in exceptional cases such as super-high performers who constantly violate behavioral norms, but are deemed “too valuable” to challenge, coach, and, if necessary, let go. It’s only when applied in the tough cases that followers know that values are more than words on a website or placards near the elevators.

3. Coaching for Alignment

I have found that I can’t even begin to practice effective coaching for accountability and alignment with our values unless I can answer yes to the following questions:

  • Are our values distilled to the essentials that guide our intentions and actions? Are we clear on the measurable behaviors that define them?
  • Have we embedded values deep into the organization’s operations by continually reinforcing them in protocols and procedures?
  • Do we have effective processes for receiving and giving feedback that are built on appreciative inquiry and positive intent?


These are the preconditions for values-coaching, and they fall squarely on the shoulders of servant-leaders.

4. Living up to Our Standards

When you fall short, what if you believe that I’m about to lecture you on our core values, list all your shortcomings, demand an explanation for why you screwed up, and then punish you? That’s the behavior of a self-serving leader – a persecutor rather than a coach who is challenging, but ultimately on our side.

Would you be more open to receiving feedback on values if you knew my purpose is to help you become more powerful, more successful, and someone that others want to emulate? That’s the role of a servant-leader – a partner in values-alignment whose aim is for us to grow as good persons and as high performers.

Realistically, there are always gaps between a servant-leader’s intentions and the perceptions of the person receiving coaching for values. The servant-leader must close this gap using appreciative inquiry, active listening, and careful reflection. By treating me as a person who possesses the desire and the capacity to come up with values-realignments together,  we can both agree on how to get back on track toward the greater goal that defines our common purpose.

5. First Coach Yourself

I know I have fallen short of core values at various points along the serving way. I’ve learned that before I can earn the right to coach anyone else on closing value gaps, I have to first consistently and courageously live these values everyday. So … before you try out your coaching plan with someone you lead, do it for yourself. Review your own shortcomings without beating yourself up, and formulate a self-coaching plan. Take a look in the mirror and a deep breath, and reset your personal standard. When others see your vulnerability and accountability as a servant-leader, they will choose to follow, willingly and passionately!

(Copyright © 2019 —  The Serving Way — Chris Alan Thyberg.)