Yesterday, a large multi-national client took me on a tour of their corporate offices. They showed me, proudly, how their values were pasted all over their walls, alongside pictures of many of the employees who’d helped drive success for the company. When the tour ended, we walked into a boardroom where I sat together with their seven-person executive team. “How can I help you?” I asked their CEO.
He looked at me thoughtfully, and pointed at one of the posters on the wall. “I want those values off the walls and in people’s hearts,” he declared.
I felt the man’s earnestness. He cared about his people. He wanted to make a difference. I love working with people who care and want to make a difference.
“Why don’t you feel you have that now?” I asked.
He sighed and looked around at six of his most senior team members. “Because people — including me — are mostly concerned with quarterly earnings.”
I nodded. “Quarterly earnings matter; you have a fiduciary responsibility to maximize profits. But would your earnings decrease if your employees were living your values the way you hope?”
“Of course not,” he blurted. “We’d make more money. But we’ve spent a lot on messaging, seminars, and other activities. None of it lands the way we hope.”
“What one value do you care most about?” I asked.
“Integrity,” he said immediately. “I want our principles to show up before we do. I want us to remember what we stand for in everything we do.”
I watched his entire executive team nod. Clearly there was alignment around the importance of integrity. “Can you tell me a story of how someone in this room embodied the kind of integrity you’re talking about?” I asked.
“I want our principles to show up before we do. I want us to remember what we stand for in everything we do.”
He smiled, and without taking even a moment to think, he swiveled his chair toward one of the executive team members. His whole face opened as he shared a beautiful story about her extraordinary act of integrity:
Not so long ago, the woman had an opportunity to advance her career and be recognized inside and outside of their company. Yet she gave the spotlight to a colleague who she believed was more deserving. Instead of being forgotten for her act, she was promoted — because, the CEO shared, “I want people like her to lead the company.”
I watched the woman grow emotional as her CEO told this story. When the CEO finished speaking, her eyes were red, as she smiled.
“Thank you,” she whispered. Around the room, the other executives were smiling with pride for their colleague. For a moment, we all sat silent, appreciating the story that had been shared and feeling its impact.
“Tell all of your employees that story,” I said quietly, ”Let them feel the kind of integrity you wish to see in others. Then next month, tell them another story of integrity. It’s a simple step… but also a big step in seeing your values jump off the wall… and into people’s hearts!”
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