Leading by Example: The Power of Demonstrating Your Values

Illustration of birds flying in a V formation to represent leadership and team

“Do as I say, not as I do.”

If you’re a parent, you’re no stranger to this phrase. Maybe you told your child to stop eating the cookies out of the pantry—only to get busted later when your kid catches you sneaking a couple.

We’re all fallible. But for anyone who aspires to be a leader, actions speak louder than words. Whether you’re a parent, a manager at a company, or a C-suite executive, you can’t just state your leadership values on a nice About page. You need to lead by example so you can show employees and potential clients that you walk the talk, too.

Why Is Demonstrating Values So Important?

There are at least 4 positive outcomes from demonstrating your leadership values:

  1. Recruitment and onboarding. As you put your own values out there, tell stories to illustrate them so people can immediately see what your values are. Onboarding becomes more effective and sticks with employees much better this way. In recruiting, showcasing your leadership values through stories helps you attract the best talent. People who resonate with your company’s values will be drawn to your company—helping you find better fits.
  2. Attract the best clients. When you’re growing a company, it’s tempting to try to attract any client you can get. However, you’ll find that it’s not necessarily about having the best benefits or the best price. It’s about your key values. They make your organization unique as well as making it easier for customers to understand how your story jives with theirs. A client that matches up with your company’s mission and values will make for a healthy, long-term relationship.
  3. Set the course and give your staff direction. In my first job, I worked for BNP Paribas in Hong Kong. They had a plethora of onboarding resources (2 thick, heavy binders full, in fact!), but I didn’t have much of a direction in my own first role. It wasn’t until someone took the time to show me around that things really clicked and I fully understood my role and value within the larger organization. Most people don’t have that luxury, especially as many teams are working remotely. This onboarding has to be structured for all employees, whether they’re working remotely or in the office. And that’s where storytelling comes in handy.
  4. Time better spent. As the old adage goes, time is money. When you take the time to demonstrate your leadership values, you’re not wasting energy trying to attract the right people by putting random content out there. No more throwing things at a wall and hoping they stick. Instead, you have a direction for that content, which helps attract the best clients and the best team members.

Tell Your Value Story

Matt Bahl, Vice President of Financial Wellness Customer Strategies at Prudential had a powerful experience with telling his value story and leading by example as he was given the opportunity to present to about 1,000 fellow employees working at Prudential.

He was looking to aid people who were financially vulnerable: people who have jobs—they may even be homeowners—but don’t have a penny saved for retirement and are getting dangerously close to retirement.

Prudential’s company values include trust, customer focus, respect, and integrity. But for Matt, he wanted to go beyond just trust. He wanted to convey a sense of fairness, equity, and access to the same resources as wealthier clients.

“What I want to do is convey the value of a particular market that we’re not focusing enough resources on right now,” Matt told us. “We need to pay attention to this because our clients and employees are these people.”

Pullquote: It says that I'm willing to be vulnerable.

He told me about his father. In 1998, on Matt’s 14th birthday, his dad came into his room and gave him some heavy sweatpants and industrial boots.

“This is your first day of work at Bahl Janitorial.”

This was his father’s business, and Matt spent his birthday weekend cleaning the toilets of a large trucking facility. Through the business, Matt’s father was able to put all of his kids through college and put food on the table.

But in 2006, his father’s world changed. His janitorial company lost its only client. He had to look for a new job with only a high school degree. At that time, he had no money saved for retirement.

After 7 months, Matt’s father started working in a warehouse. He started saving for retirement with this company. In 2011, he fell off an 11-foot ladder and sustained many injuries, ultimately losing his job as well. After he recovered, he had to return to the job market. He found a job as a security manager at the same high school his kids attended, and he was finally able to save for retirement.

After Matt told me this story, I asked him, “How does it feel to tell me this story?”

He responded, “I’m so afraid of crying. I’m so afraid of getting emotional.”

“Well, what do you think it says about you getting emotional?”

“It says that I’m willing to be vulnerable.”

That was the real value: vulnerability.

If you don’t know what your values are, your stories will tell them. Listen to your own story—or even better, have a listener who you trust—and see what actual values are coming out of that story.

Matt used his story about his father’s experiences in his presentation, and afterward he said it was the best experience he’d ever had connecting with his audience. He was able to establish credibility for Prudential as a financial wellness organization.

How Leaders Can Build Their Own Value Stories

Now it’s your turn. Initially, it can be a little challenging to get into storytelling and nail down what your stories are and the values they represent, but I’ve broken it down into a process that’s easy to implement.

  1. Listen. Who are you listening to? Listen to everyone in the organization, but also to yourself. Connect these stories.
  2. Write down your values. As you listen to these stories, see what values emerge from them. It’s natural for values to evolve and change over time, so you can be flexible.
  3. Choose one. This narrows the focus of the storytelling process.
  4. Think of a time when this value was challenged or affirmed. For example, trust. Did someone do something untrustworthy or that helped affirm the importance of trust?
  5. Unpack the details. What was the conflict? How was it resolved?
  6. Trace the map of the story from beginning to end. Follow the 5 senses to bring the story to life and pull in the listener.
  7. Tell the story. When you tell it, ask your listeners, “What values did you hear?”

Finding the stories behind your leadership values is an evolving process. It starts with you. But afterward, start listening to your organization and see what other people have to say. See if people are living up to those values. Be willing to revisit those values and see if they’re up to date.

It’s important that we go beyond just sharing our companies’ values on our websites. Completely different companies can all have similar values and leaving them at face value makes it harder for your organization to stand out. This means it’s critical for you to tell personal, vulnerable stories that connect with potential clients and members of your organization—whether you’re building a new About page or working on your signature keynote address.

At Narativ, we’re here to help you build your value story. We are here to help guide you through the process, and I’m personally happy to speak with you about how we can help you demonstrate your leadership values through storytelling.

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