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September's Note from the Author - Values

Written by: Ralph Twombly
Published: Mon Sep 28 2020 16:59:31 GMT-0400 (Eastern Daylight Time)


“Value is the life-giving power of anything…”

~John Ruskin

Adopt a set of values and get them out publicly 

Now I don’t expect that you have access to your own show on PBS, NBC, or Fox, but if you are going to lead, people need to know what you believe. They need to know because they need certainty in your actions, so they can follow you with confidence. Simon Sinek loves to say; “We follow people who believe what we believe.”  Maybe I don’t need to state the obvious, but Simon is exactly right. You can all point to someone who has inspired you to become who you are. For example, everyone I know wants to believe that a foundational value of leaders is integrity. When questioned about what integrity means, most people will say things like, “being honest” or “morally correct” or even “trustworthy.”  I like these answers, but they are just words. Of course, while they have meaning for each of us, they don’t really tell people what they can expect from their leader.  

Back to certainty for a moment. What if your leader specifically and emphatically said; “I will never lie to you and I believe that leaving out something important to you is also lying,” how would you feel?  Most of us would feel like this was the high standard that our leader was setting and over time, we could watch to see if this leader is consistently lived to this value by way of their behavior. If they are, we tend to believe the rest of what they share. If they are not, we will discount all other value statements as situational and know that this leader will act situationally. 


My First Glimpse at the power of personal values.

When I was 15, my brother was 17 and had recently received his license. To celebrate, he took his little brother out for a burger at a drive-in restaurant. This was one of those places where they served you on your window and the waitstaff brought your order on roller skates.

When we were done, that gal on the roller skates brought my brother the check and paid with a $10 bill. After a few minutes she came back with change from a $20 bill.

My brother immediately realized that it wasn’t right and insisted that she check and give him the right change. She was insistent and simply shrugged and skated away.

My brother refused to leave and eventually the manager came out and satisfied my brother by giving him the change from a $10.

We were kids and it was and is the way my brother has lived his life. And it was imbedded in my head. Values matters.


“But, I only gave you a $10”


4 - Tell the Truth

“We are not afraid to follow truth wherever it may lead.”

~Thomas Jefferson


Is this an exception? 

Speaking the truth seems easy, but what if it’s only part of the truth and you cannot tell everything?  For instance, telling employees that expansion is on the horizon but not disclosing that you are looking at real estate to expand to handle that expansion is a common situation. Holding back could be the product of concern that the real estate needs may leak out, which could increase the price point for any proposed real estate if it got into the hands of the wrong real estate agent. These are valid fears by leadership.  


What to do?  

The easiest thing to do in most cases is to let people know when these situations arise and that everything you are going to tell them is true, and there are also parts of the message that need to be held back and revealed at a later moment. This will satisfy most people because, if they were in your situation, they would have to do the same. If you have a track record for being transparent and truthful, your followers will simply relax, believe, and wait until you have information to share.             


Tell the Truth

Some people 

There is an audience of people who want to know all the secrets as soon as you know them. This has been confirmed by our unquenchable need for more information on a continuous basis. If you build a reputation for being transparent on all the things that can be shared, your will be clear to most. Again, there will always be an audience who will want more. Did I mention that this is hard work? My experience is that if you are making everyone happy all the time, you may not be doing it right. I’m not an advocate for an unhappy team or workforce, but the hard decisions will be often be second-guessed. Most leadership jobs are hard work and tough decisions will be made. The tougher the decision, the greater chance you have of losing someone along the way. Sometimes I wonder why I chose this line of work. My motives will be clear later. There is much reward in the responsibility of leading others, and it goes beyond earning a higher income.



When it comes to values, we try too hard to create big lists and live to our big lists. All values are important, of course. As you consider what is most important to you, choose one. Trust me. This is an easy one. Start small by deciding the one thing that all followers can expect from you. This should also be something you can expect from your own leader. Write down a word or series of words that you can stand behind, even if it means losing what you have. This is for you and not for your followers. Trust that if you live by what you have declared as immovable, your values, most of the followers will do exactly what the word implies; they will follow you because they believe in you and what you stand for, and by speaking and living your values, you will be setting a standard that will change their lives. 


Paper and Pen to Honor 

Pick a word or phrase and write out what it means to and how you will live it in your leadership life. Carry this around with you for a while and each day (at lunch or dinner or some quiet moment) take it out, look it over and change or add a new word or meaning. If you do this each day for a couple weeks, you will see your core values taking shape, not only in your mind, but in your actions. Once you are done with one value, start a second and a third, and keep the list short. These are words you are willing to share and live by. This represents your personal code of conduct and with a little luck, you should never need to memorize it. It will simply be in what others see and how you live your life.   

Share your value with your family, friends and eventually your team and discuss what that means for them and what they can expect from you. They will trust in you and count on you based on your consistent choices, words, and behaviors.  

Keep your values fresh and positively evolving 

Much like how we can forget to do the little things in life, like praise and inclusion, our values can fade, and stress can cause us to creep away from what we have held dear. We usually know this when someone suggests to us that we are changing, or something is different in our behavior. Like a good book or treasured gift from you friends or family, keep your value words close at hand where you can be reminded. It is hard to stay on course when there are so many distractions in our lives, so challenge yourself to review the list from time to time and ask yourself, or others, how you are doing. 


Give and receive crystal clear expectations 

As a final piece to this first section on creating followership, I would be remiss if I left out setting and revising clear expectations. This essential tool will serve you for the rest of your days in leadership if you practice it a few times and repeat the process every few months to make sure everyone knows what to expect when changes arise. 

Ralph Twombly

Ralph Twombly

In the 20 years since starting Priority Learning, Ralph has facilitated countless learning experiences and has conducted training for thousands of managers and leaders. With over 30 years of leadership development and organizational development background and work, Ralph continues to build relationships with client companies all over the U.S.


Great insightful work. Mother's day present for all moms and dads.