Mario Sundar at Marketing Nirvana just wrote about changing corporate culture with corporate storytelling. I agree that leaders should have a portfolio of stories they tell that bring corporate values to life. In addition, I recommend that leaders clearly articulate their values in writing. The corporate mission, strategy and objectives express what has to be done. Clearly articulated values in writing help make it clear how work is to be done and how it is not to be done.
Here is one of the best expressions of values by a leader that I’ve seen. It comes from the commander of the U.S.S. Montpelier, a nuclear submarine.
The USS Montpelier Command Philosophy
Montpelier is a warship, designed to steam into harm’s way and win. Our flesh and blood bring this ship to life. We are stewards of one of the most capable warships in the history of mankind. These thoughts provide a framework for executing that stewardship and for building the teamwork that will enable us to fight and win in war.
Honesty. Honesty provides the foundation of trust that is essential to teamwork. I expect and require that you be completely honest in your communication with your shipmates. I will do the same with you. At times, this will be painful, but it is extremely important that we have the facts when making decisions and that our relationships are based on mutual trust. I pledge not to kill the messenger.
Integrity. Do the right thing; don’t take the expedient path. If you are not sure what the right thing is, and you have the opportunity, ask. If you can’t, trust your judgment and training. This requires a great deal of courage, but if you act honestly and faithfully in this regard, you will not be second-guessed.
Teamwork. No ship, department, or division is successful as a one-man show. Teamwork is the key to success. Our actions must reinforce this concept. If you find yourself thinking about a problem in the command and the word “they” pops into your head, think again. “We” will solve problems together. I am not one of them and neither are you.
Backup. If you think anyone in the command is asking you to do something that is incorrect or inconsistent with these principles. Stop and ask for clarification and assistance. Leadership is about setting priorities. If you have an idea for a better way, suggest it. My door is always open to discuss your concerns. I trust that you will use the chain of command when possible.
Mistakes. Honest mistakes come with the territory. I will make some and so will you. The keys to success are establishing enough backups so that we don’t make a critical mistake, and recognizing and learning from the mistakes that we do make. Your tour will be filled with many ups and downs. It is not how many times you fall that will determine your success. Your honesty, integrity, and determination to fight on, will.
Training. We will fight the way we have trained. Therefore, training is our most important mission in peacetime. I will probably spend most of my effort in this area. Training must be operationally oriented and practical. If the training does not contribute to your ability to do your job, advance, or live your life better, then we should be doing something better.
Initiative. This is our ship to fight and operate. I expect you to think tactically and operationally and to drive the ship aggressively. When you identify an opportunity or a problem, consider alternative courses of action, then act or tell your boss what you intend to do an why. Seize the initiative and work to the limits of your authority. I intend to push as much as I can downhill, so that each of you has responsibility commensurate with your ability. If you can handle more, go for it.
Caring Leadership. Know your people. Translate your caring into tangible results. Get them off the ship when you can. Ensure they are ready for advancement. Make a difference in their lives.
Standards. The standard is excellence in all we do. Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is a habit.” Our reputation is determined in a large part due to how we execute routine evolutions, our personal appearance and the appearance of our ship. It is the sum of each of our actions. Set the standard.
Family. Success at work is interwoven with success at home. I consider it vital that we balance our military duties with our roles in the family. Take advantage of opportunities to make time for your family and work hard to keep your professional role and your family role in perspective. It is also important that our families understand the importance of our mission and that we recognize the sacrifices that our family members must make in order to fulfill our duties. Service is a team effort. I will make an effort to create a family environment on board and to support our families. A successful command has a family atmosphere, where every member takes pride in being a part of the team.
Critical Self-Assessment. Our ability to improve is dependent on our ability to analyze the causes of our failures and to take action to address those problems. At times, we will formally critique events. The intent is to fix the problem, not the blame. Honesty is critical to this process.
Ambassadors. Overseas, we are ambassadors of the United States. At home, we are representatives of the submarine force, the Navy, and the U.S. Military. Our behavior and actions should reflect the pride and responsibility we feel as members of an elite military organization.
Personal Development. I expect every Sailor to be working towards his personal and professional development and I will support your actions in these areas.
Fun. Submarining is an extremely challenging and demanding profession. At times the hours will be long and the work hard, but it is important that we have fun while fulfilling our responsibilities.
Fitness and Sleep. Submarining requires stamina. Fitness, nutrition and sleep are key to your decision-making. As General Patten said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” Take care of your body and your mind. I do not judge you on how long you work or how long you stay awake, but on how effective you are.
Decision-making. I will not establish a lot of detailed policies to spell out and legislate decisions on board. I will balance the long- and short-term needs of each individual, the ship, and the U.S. Navy. If time allows, I will make every effort to explain my decision, but there will be times when it is not practical and I expect you to trust my judgment.
Equality. We swear to support the Constitution of the United States, which states that all men are created equal. I expect you to treat each of your shipmates, our families and our visitors with dignity and respect.
Service and Reward. My ultimate goal is that you consider your service on board the MONTPELIER one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. This requires that you resolve to better yourself, your ship, your shipmates and your country. Each night when you go to sleep ask yourself “What have I done today to make myself a better man? How have I made MONTPELIER a better ship? Have I been a faithful steward of one of our country’s most valuable assets, this ship and the outstanding Sailors who fight her?”
These are my thoughts, just word on paper. Our actions together make them a reality and the key to our success.
As you can see, clearly articulated values are a source of guidance and, when expressed well, contribute to employee engagement.