Living in northeast Florida is awesome. Hurricane threats aside, this region has incredible weather which makes it enjoyable almost all year around. My wife and I do not really go on date nights; we go on what we call date walks. These walks vary in length of time from 20 minutes to sometimes a couple of hours. We take them in our neighborhood and on the beach, both during the day and at night — essentially any time we can get away for a few minutes.
Another time we get to spend together is in the morning. We call this our morning coffee time. We have this almost every weekday morning for about 30 minutes. These times are when we do a majority of our communicating and decision making. A lot of this time is devoted to thinking and talking about our children: one teenage boy and two preteen girls. In our last walk we talked about our son, who will get his driver’s license tomorrow. We are both very excited for him, but also scared for his safety and the safety of others on the road!
We have all been there. The first few months with a driver’s license is a pivotal time in your life. You get to start making your own decisions without someone breathing down your neck all the time. This is when we find out what kind of foundation he has for life. We have worked hard to give him a stable platform to launch from. We have sowed a lot of time into our son that we hope and pray will pay off. The foundation we have laid for him is not a place for him to stay, it is a place for him to start from and build on. As leaders in the workplace, the foundation we establish should work the same way. We cannot breathe down people’s neck all the time; we need to let them be who they are and operate in excellence from a firm foundation.
Most organizations these days have gone through some kind of exercise to define their foundation. They call them organizational pillars (or something similar) that define the operating system of the organization. However, the culture in some of those organizations does not reflect the foundation represented by those pillars. Creating pillars, core values, or whatever organizations use to make up their individual foundations are, in and of themselves, great things. But if they do not become part of the culture of the organization, they do not really provide a foundation.
In our organization, we went through the exercise a few years ago to redefine our pillars and the foundation of how we will operate. We instituted a measuring system to see how we are doing relative to those pillars. Just yesterday in an executive meeting with the CEO, the COO handed everyone a sheet of paper with their individual scores from 2014. Not all of the data has been collected so the scores were not completely accurate, but I was so impressed by that action. You make your foundation a part of the culture not by demanding perfect adherence, but by keeping it in front of people and measuring progress. Keeping your values in front of team members and allowing them to see that all the decisions that are made should reflect those values will provide a strong foundation for people to work from.
What is more important than creating a foundation is actually living by it. As organizations painstakingly develop their value and operating systems, they need to put mechanisms in place that keep them accountable to those values. The old saying works well here: people really do as you do, and not as you say. The values you create are extremely important, and should be greater than the sum of all of your organization dysfunctions. Create values collectively and decide what type of accountability program can be put in place for everyone, including, and especially, the leadership team.
Imagine if my wife and I told my son not to do certain things because they are harmful to him, but then all he saw was us doing those exact things. That would be confusing to him to say the least, and would completely dismantle every other thing we did to try to build a platform for him to grow from. No matter what, at the end of the day, behavior speaks much louder than words. If you lead anyone, including yourself, then the most important thing you can do is align your behaviors with your words. Integrity, once lost, is very difficult to get back. Keep it by walking with the character your values say you have!