Time for a confession. I recently had an interaction with someone important to me that didn’t go very well. They were handling the situation differently than I would, so I stepped in with my two cents about the best way to get things done. My gesture wasn’t appreciated, and I responded defensively.
It’s not an unlikely scenario for any leader as we try to work together to get things done. As I reflected on my experience, I wasn’t acting like the leader that I wanted to be. I had to pause and ask myself the questions – Who is it that I am becoming in this situation? Who is it that I want to become?
Congruent leadership emerges when our actions and our values are aligned. How I interact with others needs to be congruent with what I say is important to me. I say that collaboration is a key value for me – yet I stepped in with a bit of a “take it over” attitude. I say that drawing out potential is a key value for me – yet I didn’t take advantage of a learning opportunity for either of us.
True values are demonstrated in daily behavior. Otherwise they are simply nice words. An individual values exercise or a team building activity may be a helpful starting point to find some words to describe what is important – however, we really know what is important by what we do. We can’t stop at simply stating values and writing them down on paper. They need to serve as a guide for our daily behaviors. Words we can use to evaluate our actions and ask questions like – Is this who I want to become? Is this what we want this organization to be known for?
If our values will be our guide, then we must also recognize influences in leadership behavior besides values. There are reasons we make choices on a daily basis that often have seemingly little to do with our values. Our actions are influenced by the expectations of others, driven by the burdens of our work, or swayed by the demands of people. Amidst these other influences we can lose sight of what is important and get lost in reactive leadership.
Values are like the side rails that when bumped into clue us into the fact that we have gone astray. By stepping back and evaluating side-rail bumping experiences through the lens of our values we allow these values to be our anchor for congruent leadership.
So, join me in a little intentional values reflection. Think of two or three examples in your recent experience where you have seen evidence of your values in action or situations where your actions have been in-congruent with your values. Simply observe your heart and mind without passing judgment on yourself or others in the situation. Ask a few questions to gain insight:
- How did you move toward or away from your values in these situations?
- What created congruence to your values or tension with them?
- What was important to you in these situations?
Now, honestly assess what you are noticing. What adjustments will lead to more congruence with your values? Sometimes that adjustment is in our actions. Sometimes that adjustment is in clarifying what is really important.
Intentional reflection will help you let values be your guide – the cue that one of your values may need some adjusting. What is really important is not just the word you put down on paper.
I love talking to leaders about values – it’s more than a word-choice exercise. If you need to get at the deeper, under the surface values that really are driving your choices or creating tension in your leadership, we should chat.