When leading others, you can improve your chances of success if you clarify whether what you are asking of them is a value or a strategy.
Sometimes you do things because you believe they are the right thing to do. Sometimes you do things as a means to an end. For example, for some people education is a value, an end in itself. For others education is a means to earning a living. It is always important to be clear about whether the things we pursue or require others to pursue are values or strategies.
Consider Hugh and Janette, who were having trouble with their young son, Jason. The more they emphasized how wrong it is to lie, the more devious he became about his lying.
“What exactly do you say to him when you talk to him about lying?” I asked them. They responded with, “‘Never tell a lie. If you tell lies, no one will ever trust you.”
“Well, that explains it!” I said. “The second part of your sentence, ‘If you tell lies no one will ever trust you’, gives the rationale for the first part.” Being honest is a way to build trust. Hugh and Janette did not position it as a value.
Unintentionally, Hugh and Janette are saying that telling the truth is a strategy for gaining credibility. This leaves Jason with the idea that, provided no one knows that he is lying, his credibility will remain intact and there’d be nothing lost.
How could Hugh and Janette have positioned it to Jason differently? They could have said, “Never tell a lie, because lying is wrong, and we don’t do that. Integrity is very important to us and you should never compromise your integrity by lying.” This makes honesty a value, not just a strategy. They could then add, “And by the way, when you lie, people stop trusting you.”
A strategy is a means to a higher end. A value is an end in itself. Strategies are flexible, values are not. Strategies allow for alternative ways to achieve the desired end. There are no alternatives to values.
As Jason’s parents did, we often confuse the messages we send about values and strategies. While we intend to communicate our values to the people we lead, often the message we send ends up suggesting a strategy rather than demonstrating a value. These confusing messages destroy the leader’s credibility and sabotage his or her success.
For example, how does your company see inclusion and diversity, as a value or as a strategy? If your company sees inclusion and diversity as a value, it would permeate everything the company does, and cultural intelligence and inclusive leadership would be part of every leadership development program. Inclusion would be woven into the fabric of the organization’s culture.
If your company sees inclusion and diversity as a strategy, then the company would identify the performance improvements it expects to see from D&I initiatives and set measurable targets. As with any strategic initiative, management would delegate D&I to a team focused on it who would establish programs and measure success. One could imagine a company that sees I&D as a strategy, reaching its diversity targets without its culture becoming any more inclusive.
This need not be an either/or. If inclusion and diversity is positioned as a value, it can still have significant strategic benefits. The question is, do you want behavior to be driven by strategic outcome or by leadership character? Driving by strategic outcome might yield the strategic results, but it will not elevate the culture. Driving behavioral change as a value—with strategic benefits—improves the culture and attracts the best talent.
Answering these questions will help you clarify whether the messages you are sending position inclusion and diversity as a value or as a strategy:
- Do you have a dedicated D&I department running D&I programs?
- Is D&I training a separate program from your regular leadership development training?
- When you ask why your company is focused on D&I, are you likely to hear reasons it is good for business results?
- Is D&I exclusively about race, ethnicity, and gender in your company?
- Are unconventional views from people with different perspectives marginalized or ignored?
If you answered “yes” to three or more of these questions, you might want to think about some new and different ways of going about inclusion and diversity.
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