Leaders are, and should be, held to a higher standard.
It’s business fashionable to throw around words like ‘value statements’ and ‘mission’ but, in many cases, they are just empty words.
Why? Because often leaders in a company don’t actually give those terms any weight, so they become hot air instead of standard operating procedure. How does a leader give them weight?
By living them.
Case in point: Dropbox’s CEO ‘A-HA’ moment
Drew Houston, CEO at Dropbox, had his moment of understanding the importance of walking the walk when he set up an all-company meeting to address the issue of lateness. A meeting to which he was … wait for it … late.
In his mind, being two minutes late was no big deal, but that’s not how others perceived it. A fellow team member shared with him that it was, in fact, hypocritical to behave as if the rules didn’t apply to him.
Houston came to the realization that all the value statements in the world won’t make a hill of beans difference in team morale and attitude if the leadership isn’t living them, rather than just repeating them.
Show rather than tell
The best way for a leader to breathe life into value statements about the company is to live them. Like a novelist who wants to bring the reader into a new and interesting world, he has to show them the way, rather than tell them how to get there:
“To illustrate, let’s say someone stops you on the street to ask for directions. You could give the person a step-by-step route to follow, or you might draw a map, complete with street names and landmarks.
But you could also say:
“That’s not too far out of my way. Just follow me, and I’ll take you there.”
Which method do you think is the most effective?” (Source)
Communicate intentions clearly
While mission statements and value propositions might be written in the employee handbook or even on the wall at the office, the real power of these words comes from direct statements and actions of leaders.
It’s all very well and good to SAY that you value the mental health of your team members, but you have to show it too. A recent example that went viral online was an employee at Michigan tech company who sent her team an email saying that she was taking a couple of days off. The reason: for her mental health.
You might expect that the CEO of that company would be unhappy to see an email from a team member that so openly admitted to taking time off for this reason — mental health not being accepted in every organization as being a legitimate concern for employees. In this case, you would be wrong.
“I just wanted to personally thank you for emails like this. Every time you do, I use it as a reminder of the importance of using sick days for mental health—I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations. You are an example to us all, and help cut through the stigma so we can all bring our whole selves to work.”
Now, that’s leadership. The employee, Madelyn, tweeted his response (with permission) and the result was overwhelming, even to the CEO, Ben Congleton. As he stated in a subsequent post at Medium.com “It’s 2017. I cannot believe that it is still controversial to speak about mental health in the workplace when 1 in 6 americans are medicated for mental health.”
Don’t create value statements you don’t believe in
That’s the bottom line. Hollow value statements are pointless and, in fact, can hurt a team’s morale when they discover how little those statements mean to the leadership of the company.
Sit down and really think about what your company is about and how you can use mission and value statements to show your team where the path to success is, rather than just pointing the way and then going in the opposite direction.