Think about where the world is going. Things are moving faster. The future is more uncertain and more complex. Businesses are coming under ever-increasing pressure with demographic shifts, new commercial initiatives, and growing competition. This complex and fast changing environment is straining the skills and abilities of business leaders to meet such demands. And leadership development has not kept up.

Organizations are a lot like people; they are always a work in progress. Like people, they are impacted by change. And like people, they must adapt to that change to be survive and thrive. As one of my clients loves to say, you don’t have to be bad to be better. There is always work to be done around improvement in our organizations and in our own personal leadership.

So how can organizations benefit from Values Based Leadership (VBL)?

Often in organizations there’s a misalignment between their mission (why they exist), their vision (what they’re trying to accomplish), and their strategy (how they will achieve their mission and vision). Sometimes organizations even lack those critical pieces.

But even when organizations are incredibly clear on achieving their mission and vision, they’re often unclear on what the culture should be. As a result, they have a challenging time managing the company culture in a way that makes sense to their employees. This creates a misalignment between what’s going on from both a people and strategy standpoint.

It takes significant leadership horsepower to effectively build and sustain the culture, execute on strategy, and ultimately achieve the mission and vision. Leaders must always be developing themselves and helping their people to develop as leaders as well.  Investing in people’s ability to lead in a rapidly changing world is only getting more challenging.

Finally, many organizations have misalignment between their processes and their desired culture. For example, how a company hires and fires, how they pay people, how they incent people, how they set expectations, how they communicate – even the physical office spaces – all of these things must align with the culture a company is trying to create, the strategic vision of the company, and the behaviors modeled by leadership.  When these key elements are missing, eventually it begins to chip away at the bottom line.

Why is alignment so important?

At InnerWill, our VBL work is often centered on creating organizational alignment. We exist to help companies–across all sectors–build the culture they want, achieve their strategic vision, and live into their mission by helping them develop the leadership horsepower they need.

We’re in the people business – which means that ultimately, we’re in the alignment business. When organizations are more aligned, they simply function better. People are more engaged, they perform better, and they create better results. When the organizations they are working for just make sense, as opposed to misaligned gears that grind all the time, people can actually see the mission in action and understand how to live into it.

It’s critical to remember that creating alignment takes time and commitment. Culture work is heavy, long-term lifting. You can’t create a culture overnight, nor can you fix one. But when you have clarity around what you’re trying to create, when you’re specific around your values, and when you lead in ways that deliver on that, then the culture starts to align.

An investment in effective VBL development means your people will become re-energized and begin to build the necessary competencies to successfully lead the organization into the future.

Is my organization ready for VBL?

Leadership development has been around for centuries. From the founding of the YMCA as a response to unhealthy social conditions arising from the unintended consequences of the Industrial Revolution, to Milton Hershey’s transformative impact on building the town of Hershey, PA., to the ground breaking values work that Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner led in the 1980s. This work continues today; company culture is now imbedded into how we define a successful business. Peter Drucker may have put it best, culture eats strategy for breakfast.

InnerWill’s work is an outgrowth of all of this. And there’s a lot of work to be done. Organizations that are serious about their strategy and the outcomes they’re trying to achieve must also address the culture issue. If they don’t, the results can be devastating.

Go back to the ethical failings of the early 2000s – how much time, energy, and money was destroyed when Enron imploded? Fast forward to today, from rigging emissions tests, to thousands of fraudulent bank accounts, to government scandals, there is no shortage of leadership failures in organizations. A company making news for its innovative products and sky-rocketing revenues can quickly become a headline about an ethical scandal and a resigning CEO. It’s a dotted line back to leadership at the top and the company culture.

What’s the true cost of having a bad leader who is ineffective at performance management, who is unable to give or receive feedback, who can’t navigate conflict, and who doesn’t create a sense of trust and shared focus for his team?

Think about the cost of losing a customer. Maybe she had a terrible experience with a customer service rep. Now imagine that all 50 customer service reps work for the same manager, and that manager’s ability to lead has everything to do with his team’s performance and the customer experience.

The true cost is more complicated than simple dollars and cents, because leadership is a force multiplier. If a team leader is malfunctioning and not performing where he or she needs to be than a company is either losing money or opportunity. The impact of organizational leadership is far reaching.

When you think about an investment in VBL, ask yourself:

• What’s the leadership horsepower in your organization? Are your young leaders ready to step up? Would you turn your business over to them tomorrow? Does your successor have the skills necessary to lead not just today but tomorrow?

• Think about your key talent. If they left tomorrow, would you rehire them?

• And finally, can you afford not to make the investment?

Did you answer no to any of these questions? If so, don’t worry. You still have time to lay the foundation, continue to improve, or even rebuild your leadership strategy by investing in VBL today. In fact, the development of leaders throughout an organization may be the biggest contributor to its long-term success. Because in this volatile and fast-moving world, VBL is a stalwart constant.


Tom Epperson

Tom Epperson

Dr. Tom Epperson is the President of InnerWill, and an instructor in Virginia Commonwealth University’s Executive MBA program. Tom is a certified business coach and has a Doctorate in Leadership from The George Washington University. Tom works with clients on cultural transformation, leadership development, executive coaching, and igniting individual and organizational potential. Previously, Tom served as the HR Director for Luck Companies, and played a significant role as one of the architects of Luck Companies’ cultural transformation.

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