Values of Great Leaders Connect with Employees
By Michael Lee Stallard
When people feel emotionally connected, they put more effort in their work. Research bears this out. A 2004 Corporate Leadership Council study of 50,000 employees worldwide concluded that emotional factors were four times as important as rational factors when it came to employee effort.
Great leaders connect on an emotional level with the people they are responsible for leading. When employees follow their leader’s example, they become more connected with one another, boosting trust, cooperation and esprit de corps throughout the organization. What I have discovered as a leader and as an advisor to leaders over the years is that the emotional connections leaders develop with people are ultimately grounded in the leader’s own values. The values that foster connection among people come in clusters that I refer to as Truth Values, Beauty Values and Goodness Values.
Throughout A.G. Lafley’s stunning turnaround of Procter and Gamble, he listened to people rather than lecturing them. After taking the helm in 2000, Lafley surveyed employees, held extensive meetings with them, and even met with P&G alumni to hear their views. Lafley didn’t dominate the meetings but instead facilitated a conversation by encouraging people to share their opinions and ideas. One of the reasons that P&G employee morale recovered and its performance improved was that employees felt connected to Lafley when he gave them a voice and implemented many of their ideas. When other leaders emulated Lafley’s approach, P&G employees became a more engaged and, as a result, they put more effort in their work. Furthermore, the increase in conversations and interaction created an internal marketplace of ideas that helped decision makers make better-informed decisions and fueled innovation.
When you deconstruct Lafley’s behavior – seeking input, listening to ideas and opinions, considering them and acting on those that seem to be right — it reflects a number of Truth Values that include humility, curiosity, open-mindedness, wisdom and love of learning. These values in a culture help identify truth by bringing out into the open the knowledge of many (i.e. diverse individuals who have differing perspectives, thinking styles, experiences and observations) so that truth can be identified and acted upon.
In contrast to A.G. Lafley is the example of Howell Raines, the former executive editor of The New York Times. As the investigation unfolded into plagiarism and fabrication by Jayson Blair, one of Raines’ young star reporters, numerous press accounts described Raines as a leader who was arrogant and hostile toward those who disagreed with him. These charges reflect a lack of the values that made Lafley so successful. Raines’ leadership style prevented connection in the work environment. As a result, Raines was fired, his tenure having lasted less than two years, the second shortest of an executive editor in the Times’ 152-year history.
Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple, is passionate about changing the world with Apple products that reflect aesthetic beauty in product design and excellence in product functionality. An appreciation for aesthetic beauty as well as excellence in execution, hope, optimism, vitality and enthusiasm are a few of the Beauty Values. As a leader, Jobs is weak on the next set of values and that works against him but he is able to make that connection with Apple employees who share his drive for beauty and excellence.
David Neeleman, the founder and former chairman and CEO of Jet Blue airlines, is a leader who incorporates Goodness Values into his leadership style. The values in this cluster include love of people, respect, honesty, integrity, fairness, kindness, and forgiveness. Neeleman reflected many of these values when he began and led the airline. He routinely met with new Jet Blue employees and remembered many employees’ names. He traveled on Jet Blue flights one day each week and worked alongside Jet Blue crew. By doing this, Neeleman showed that he valued everyone’s role and that no position was beneath him. Two years after Jet Blue opened for business, it needed to fill 2,000 new positions. An astounding 130,000 people applied.
Many non-profit organizations and health care organizations benefit from the Goodness Values. Their passionate, dedicated employees are drawn to these organizations because the Goodness Values are reflected in their day-to-day work and interaction with people. Organizations that promote social responsibility and environmental sustainability reflect the Goodness Values too because these aims are based on integrity and respect for others.
Putting It All Together
Truth, beauty and goodness move people’s hearts and minds. Moral philosophers and religious leaders throughout history have advocated the values that underlie truth, beauty and goodness. Most psychologists today believe the values promote human flourishing.
If you aspire to be a great leader, it would be wise to know the Truth, Beauty and Goodness Values and to cultivate them in your own character and in the character and culture of your organization. We are all wired differently. Some of these values may be come natural to you while others will take intentional effort to develop. A mentor or coach can be of help here.
Here are some practical suggestions that will help you connect and encourage connection in your culture:
- Put your values in writing for everyone to see and include why they are important.
- Meet with employees and share why you believe in the values. Using personal stories to illustrate your values will help people remember them.
- Look for ways to continuously celebrate employees who model the values and be sure to get their stories out as well.
- Incorporate the values into performance appraisals and the promotions process.
- Read about great leaders throughout history and you will see examples of how their values connected them with the people they led.
- Make yourself accountable to a few people who will commit to telling you if you do anything that even appears to be inconsistent with your values.
As you establish Truth, Beauty and Goodness Values in your organization’s character and culture, people will learn that there is a right way to do business, one that reflects the values, and a wrong way. Plenty of organizations in the press today have learned from experience that compromising these values ultimately harms organizations and their employees. Doing business the right way is the only path to sustainable superior performance.