[This article was first published as a guest post on my friend Carey Nieuwhof’s blog.]
What’s truly important to you and your team became abundantly clear in the past year.
Crisis either unites or divides us. And my guess is that you are seeing this more than ever with your team.
Whether you’re a senior leader leading a large staff or a ministry leader providing direction to a small team of volunteers, the strengths and weaknesses of your team are very clear right now.
Initially, you banded together and rallied to make the adjustments necessary to adapt to our rapidly changing world, but fatigue is catching up with us. We’re all tired. Emotions are high. The way forward is fuzzy. The demands of leading through a pandemic have required superhero energy from all of us.
As the leader, your team needs your clarity and confidence now more than ever. They need to feel the strength of your leadership like never before.
Before you let that statement overwhelm you, I want to encourage you that this is what you’re made for. You are right where you belong. This is why you’ve been positioned to lead in this season.
As leaders, we find strength when we focus our attention and efforts on providing hope and possibility for those we lead. It’s an extraordinary gift we give to others.
Here’s the good news: this isn’t a mystery that only the best of leaders have unlocked. Leading with clarity and confidence, even in a season of immense uncertainty, is something you can do.
How you lead in uncertainty is a greater reflection of your leadership ability than how you lead in the ordinary.
How do you lead with clarity and confidence when that is the last thing you feel right now?
I’ve written previously about the building blocks of organizational success which I define as purpose, culture, and strategy. The pressure of this pandemic has obliterated our strategies, quickly eroded our team culture with the demands of remote work, and forced us to revisit the question of purpose – why do we do what we do?
What ties all of these building blocks together are the values that guide your team. Values are the guiding principles that define the habits and behaviors necessary to accomplish your mission and vision together.
Values answer the question of “HOW?” How will we work together, lead together, accomplish a mission together in a climate that is foreign? How will we make decisions? How will we behave in a way that is congruent with our purpose and accomplishes our strategy?
Values are the linchpin to organizational life but are often quite difficult for us to define in a way that is memorable and more importantly, impactful.
Here’s the thing: whether stated or not, you have values. There are guiding principles that are driving how your team works together.
Are your values producing the results you want?
If you’re like most organizations, there are two issues with your values:1. No one pays attention to them.
You may have stated values that are beautifully written and hang on the wall of your organization, but no one actually knows or pays attention to them. And more critically, your habits and behaviors don’t reflect them.
2. Your values are working against you.
Perhaps you don’t have stated values, but there are definitely habits and behaviors that influence how your team works together and if you’re honest, they are working against you more than they are working for you.
Creating a shared set of values that align your team is some of the most important work you can do as a leader.
Great values provide your team with “rules of engagement” for how they accomplish their vision and goals TOGETHER.
Strong, clearly defined values:
- Provide a filter for decision-making.
- Clarify expectations.
- Give team members confidence in what is expected from them.
- Simplify the need for bureaucracy.
As you lead your team forward in this season of uncertainty and complexity, there is no better time than now to get clear about your values.
Values are the guiding principles that tether your team together and will equip your team to become stronger and more unified.
4 Steps for Writing Values that are More Than Statements on a Wall:
Don’t try too hard.
You don’t need to be clever. You don’t need to narrow them down. You just need to start brainstorming. Gather your team and collectively brainstorm the values that you want to be true of how you work together.
Discuss questions like What is important to us? What do we want to be true of how we work together? What makes our team distinct from another team?
What phrases do we frequently use to encourage and motivate our team? Are there any axioms that have become common language?
Spend some time refining this list. I recommend narrowing it down to three to five values that are most critical for your team to accomplish the mission.
It doesn’t mean that there won’t be other things that are important, but you’re looking to narrow it down to the three to five that are most distinct to your culture.
For example, character is a value that is important (I hope) to all leaders, especially Christian leaders. In my book, that’s a “pay to play” value. If you’re not already aspiring to lead with great character, you shouldn’t have made the team.
Find the values that are distinct and help clarify why this team culture is different from another.
Get honest. Do you really believe these values matter?
The next step you need to take is to clarify the belief that supports each value.
It’s easy to come up with some values that sound great but push yourself to consider why they really matter.
Why is this value important? Why did this value make it to the final list?
What’s the belief or the core conviction that will cause this value to hold up under pressure?
For example, one of my team values is “self-leadership.” This is based on the belief that we must lead ourselves well in order to lead others better. How can my team and I expect to equip other leaders effectively if we aren’t first prioritizing the value of leading ourselves well?
Make sure you don’t misbehave.
What we value is more about what we do than what we say. It’s not enough to come up with team values.
You must also define the behaviors that reflect each value.
What does it look like when our team is working from this value?
This step is super important… let’s say you define a value of responsiveness. Without describing our expectations for what responsiveness looks like, every person on our team will bring their own interpretation to that value. One person might think being responsive means replying to an email whenever they can get to it, while your expectation may be that every team member should respond within an hour.
Values must be reinforced with behaviors that are consistent and congruent with those values in order to truly be effective.
Make your values memorable.
Let’s be honest. Your values are probably not going to be so revolutionary that no other team has ever chosen the same ones before.
Create a “sticky statement” that makes the value memorable.
For example, one of the multi-site churches where I served as Executive Director had a value of “collaborative communication”. Frankly, the value itself is a snoozer. That value could be hanging on every corporate conference room wall in America. We all want our teams to communicate well.
This value was important to us because communication was getting more and more complex as we added and expanded our campuses and staff. The value was highly important. We just needed a clever way to say it.
Ultimately we landed on the phrase, “use your blinker”, based upon a legend in our team culture of my…shall we say…efficient driving style. And while you might be holding on for dear life as my passenger, one thing you will notice is that I religiously use my turn signal when I’m driving. I believe that if you’re going to move fast, you need to communicate well with those around you.
The same intentionality was needed from our team. If we were going to continue to move fast and respond to growth, we needed to be even more deliberate to “use our blinker” and communicate well with one another.
It’s not enough to define some values and throw them on the wall. What gives your values meaning and distinctiveness is the significance of the values to your culture.
What you value is important. Defining the values that drive behavior, influence your decisions and equip your team to move forward, is the one thing that you can do to lead with clarity and confidence in this season.
To help get you started, we’ve created a free Values Grid worksheet. Click here to download this free resource and get started on bringing the clarity that will align your team to accomplish your mission stronger than ever!
How are your values providing clarity and confidence for your team right now?
Jenni Catron is a writer, speaker, and leadership coach who consults churches and non-profits to help them lead from their extraordinary best. She speaks at conferences and churches nationwide, seeking to help others develop their leadership gifts and lead confidently. As Founder and CEO of The 4Sight Group, she consults with individuals and teams on leadership and organizational health.
Jenni is the author of several books, including Clout: Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence and The 4 Dimensions of Extraordinary Leadership.
Disclosure: Some of the links above are affiliate links, meaning there is no additional cost to you, but I will earn a small commission if you use the links to make a purchase.