Values-Based Leadership: How People-First Cultures Triumph


Values-Based Leadership in Action

I was sitting in my office one day when the CEO walked in and laid a Christmas gift on my desk. He didn’t offer much of an explanation. He just smiled and walked back out. Inside the festive bag was a wristwatch – from his private collection, it turns out – and a short note that spoke volumes about servant leadership and running a values-based company. He wrote that he was giving these watches to the senior leadership team as a reminder of the importance of a servant-based leadership culture.

The message was clear: Putting the people of the company first was a 24-7, 365-day-a-year responsibility, and we, the leaders of the company, were the guardians of this culture. Just as you have to wind and care for a watch, our mission every day was to nurture and protect the 80,000 people depending on us for their livelihoods, their hopes, and their dreams. Like maintaining a fine watch, this effort should never stop.
At the time, this company was highly profitable and widely acclaimed as the leader in a global industry. But this CEO understood that fortunes can change very quickly. Fortunes ebb and flow. However, if you get the leadership culture in business part right, a company can withstand almost anything.

Why Corporate Culture is the Cornerstone of Business Success

Most people in business have heard the Peter Drucker quote: 

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” 

Yet, it’s remarkable how many forget this, especially when hard times hit. At the National Medal of Honor Center for Leadership, we believe a healthy leadership culture can be founded on the core values of the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for military valor. Our experience shows that these values are not just for those on the battlefield. The recipients of the Medal are the first to tell you that. Instead, these are values that act as a stabilizer when times are good and a fortifier when they are not.


How Leadership Values Steer Companies Through Challenges

Any company faces challenges. Some align with the day-to-day operations of running a business. Others are far more significant — existential, even.

Here’s how the Medal of Honor values can position you as a culture custodian, especially in tough times:

Courage in Adversity:

When faced with challenging decisions, such as layoffs, it takes courage to confront the harsh realities head-on. Leaders who exhibit courage understand the gravity of the situation while remaining committed to doing what’s right for the organization. They resist the temptation to sidestep difficult conversations or delay tough decisions, knowing that decisive action is necessary to move forward.

Sacrifice for the Greater Good:

Values-based leaders recognize that difficult decisions often require sacrifices for the greater good of the organization. Leaders who embody the value of sacrifice prioritize the well-being of the entire team and make tough decisions with empathy and compassion, striving to minimize any adverse impacts on individuals.

Integrity Amid Uncertainty:

In times of crisis, maintaining integrity is paramount. Leaders must exhibit honesty, transparency, and ethical behavior, even when faced with decisions that may be unpopular or controversial. By adhering to their values and principles, leaders foster trust and credibility, rallying their teams around a shared purpose and vision.

Commitment to Resilience:

Adversity tests the mettle of leaders, but it also presents an opportunity to demonstrate a steadfast commitment to resilience. Values-based leaders remain dedicated to overcoming challenges and achieving long-term goals, inspiring confidence and optimism in their teams, and instilling a sense of hope and determination.

Patriotism in Unity:

In times of crisis, leaders must harness the collective strength and purpose of their teams. This involves working together towards a shared goal and rallying the team around a sense of pride and mission.

Citizenship through Empathy:

Difficult decisions can affect both leaders and employees alike. Values-based leaders demonstrate empathy and compassion, acknowledging the human impact of their decisions and providing support and guidance to those affected. They prioritize the well-being and dignity of their employees, ensuring that even in challenging times, everyone is treated with respect and fairness.

By embracing the six core values of the Medal of Honor – Courage, Integrity, Commitment, Sacrifice, Citizenship, and Patriotism –  you can lead an impactful life that will help shape the future and carry forward the best traditions of what it means to be American.