Leadership: Core Values vs. Reality

core valuesHow do your values and core beliefs impact how you lead? We all hold certain values. Our values and core beliefs are critical components of who we are.

These are important questions for leaders to weigh before a crisis of conflict (or conscience) occurs – not after. #Best Advice  Consider a client example that I’ve witnessed. [The names have been changed for privacy purposes.]

Ralph has reached the pinnacle of the sales and marketing organization in a large global organization. As SVP of Sales and Marketing, Ralph is responsible for all upstream and downstream marketing as well as a well-managed salesforce. Ralph’s core values include:
  • Loyalty
  • Dedication
  • Integrity
  • Hard work
  • Collaboration
This is a simple list that anyone could identify with and adhere to, right? Ralph thought so. These are the beliefs and values that got him to the top of his profession in record time. How could such a short list that had served him as a dependable North Star turn into conflict?
Under Ralph’s leadership, a multi-year competitive advantage was created by a steady stream of innovative products that solved customer challenges unaddressed by any competitor. With a seemingly bottomless bag of innovation, Ralph’s sales team was highly favored above the competition. The twist in this story occurred with the reaction of Ralph’s organization when competitors began closing the gap between products and services where Ralph’s company had an advantage.
While Ralph wanted to double-down on R&D to produce even more innovative products through hard work and dedication, other executives were desperate to avoid a sales slump that would send the stock tumbling towards a long-overdue correction. Rather than allocate the investment in R&D that Ralph had proposed, a decision was made to create a quarterly discount budget that would lower prices, sell more product, and hit quarterly revenue projections.
The executive team celebrated this short-term solution while Ralph had conflicted feelings with the ominous implications of this decision. This discounting practice grew and became an expectation among customers. The negotiated contracts and pricing became meaningless as customers responded by waiting until the end of a quarter to take advantage of additional discounts. Sales representatives were rewarded and honored for achieving quota with severely discounted prices in a new culture that no longer valued hard work and integrity. As a result, the organization began losing some its’ best and brightest.
Ralph was a “good soldier” and loyal to his organization yet remained committed to finding a collaborative solution with his fellow executives to get the organization back on track and reverse the ever-expanding discount budget. Ralph became more and more dismayed and increasingly impassioned against overloading customer shelves through hyper-discounts. He even referred to such practices as being akin to Ponzi schemes to hide the truth of declining revenue from Wall Street.
Over time, the executive team met to discuss and review the organization’s five-year strategy. Ralph was first to present…

How do you think the conclusion to this story unfolds? I’d like you to put yourself in Ralph’s shoes and consider the following:

  1. What would be your message to your colleagues?
  2. How would you leverage your core values to influence the direction of the organization?
  3. (How) Could you reconcile the actions of the organization with your core beliefs?

I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments!


Carly Vivian
Carly Vivian
CARLY is an expert in leadership development and organizational change management (OCM). Her mission is to reinvent how people think about change, replacing fear and inertia with clarity of direction and forward momentum. Carly loves to work with leaders and help guide them and their teams through major transitions with agility, connection, and commitment. As a leader in Slalom's Business Advisory Services practice, she leads strategic initiatives to bring new levels of transformation and change management to clients. With 20+ years of consulting experience and deep expertise in executive coaching, organization effectiveness, strategy, and team effectiveness, she has a proven track record for delivering solutions that drive growth, accelerate innovation and result in improved outcomes. Carly can be reached at [email protected]

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  1. I see strong leadership as being a reflection of practicing strong ethics. Though core values are important, ethics are what these values look like in practice.

    1. Weak leaders focus just on their self interest and not their followers.
    2. Mediocre leaders focus on what is popular with their followers.
    3. Great leaders focus on what is the right thing to do for everyone involved.

    As a great leader, there will be times where you will act in a way that goes against your values. You will be angry. You will be outraged. But, you have to find some comfort that you’re doing the right thing — even when you despise it.