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Leadership Unlimited

Leadership Unlimited is a career column by Terry Wall, MBA '97. Terry is a recognized expert on strategy, leadership, and productivity, who will share his experiences and tips each month.

Alumni are encouraged to send comments, questions or suggestions for future column topics to

To Promote Values, Preach What You Practice
March 2014

That's right, preach what you practice. The old cliché says "practice what you preach," but we need to turn that around to illustrate a point about values: You must do everything to give employees a clear sense of your values, because your values are the company values.

When I'm working with management teams to clarify their values, occasionally, at the beginning of the discussion, one of the managers says, "What values?"

The implication is that the person doesn't know which values govern the operation of the company. Or, worse yet, this person might believe that the company has no values. Sometimes the person doesn't understand what we mean by "values."

Values are simply those core principles or beliefs that are reflected in how the company conducts business. We can think of lots of values. Integrity is a value, as is exceeding customer expectations. Treating employees fairly is another value.

Not all values are good. When profit above all else is the value, or winning at any cost, companies cut corners, and start crossing the line between ethical and unethical behavior, between honesty and dishonesty, between legal and illegal behavior. Think Enron on steroids.

So we want to concentrate on good values, such as honesty, hard work, giving back to the community. Values are important because they guide people when tough decisions come up.

You as leaders, and in turn your employees, must clearly understand these values, if you want the employees more engaged in their work, more committed to company goals, and more productive in their jobs. All of that will lead to greater profitability.

Often, the values are practiced, but not necessarily preached.

For instance, I'm working with a company where I interviewed a cross section of employees and managers, and several identified one great aspect of the company is that they are very ethical. They always do what's right for the customer.

But the leaders of this company may not be going around preaching this value. It could be that employees pick it up from observing the behavior of the leaders. Employees learn values from you, the leaders, by watching what you do and how you handle difficult situations.

That's the "practice" part of "preach what you practice." And that's fine, but adding preaching to practice gives the values more strength.

Let's talk about the "preach" part. You should emphasize these values by talking explicitly and specifically about them. Better yet, take a page out of the big companies' playbook, and write a values statement.

A values statement serves the same function as a purpose statement, or vision statement. It codifies and provides emphasis for something that is often unspoken and taken for granted.

Writing it forces you to think about it, and leaves nothing to chance. Once you've written them, you must continue to preach those values.

Communicate your values relentlessly, preach them in meetings, and when talking to people informally. Emphasize these values in your written communications. No more wondering if employees understand the values.

Then when your preaching and practice are consistent, employees will internalize your values, live by them, and work harder to exemplify them.

Let's abuse another cliché, "actions speak louder than words." True, but I believe that actions AND words together speak louder than either one by itself.

What are YOUR values? How clearly are they understood by your employees? How do you know they're understood? Do YOU preach what you practice?


About the Author

Terry Wall

Terry Wall, MBA '97, accelerates success for individuals and organizations. For individuals, he accelerates success through coaching. For organizations, he accelerates success by building winning teams, working with management teams in groups. Either way, Terry teaches people how to improve how they manage and lead, so that they and their direct reports are more engaged in their work, more committed to organizational goals, and more productive in what they do.

That accelerates success. That improves profitability.

Terry specializes in strategic planning, leadership development, change management, corporate culture, and productivity improvement. He works in a wide range of industries, including service and manufacturing, non-profit, and large and small organizations. He is a skilled facilitator who provides coaching on individual, executive, or team levels.

A recognized expert on strategy, leadership, and productivity, Terry has a B.A. in psychology from Rockhurst University in Kansas City, and an MBA from Drexel University in Philadelphia. He is a professional speaker, and a professional writer who coauthored a book on teambuilding, and has been published in many publications.

Terry Wall accelerates success, and improves profitability, for individuals, teams, and organizations.

Issue Archive

October 2009
4 Best Practices to Destroy Employee Retention

January 2010
What is Responsibility Based Management, Engaging Leadership?

February 2010
Do You Have a Leadership Deficit?

March 2010
Trust is the Foundation of Leadership, Teamwork, Sales

June 2010
Look in the Mirror First, but Beware of Blind Spots

August 2010
Five Strategies to Improve Company Profitability

October 2010
The Leader's Role as Teacher, and the Threat to Put My Hand in the Shredder

December 2010
The First 48 Principle of Conflict Resolution

January 2011
Talk Makes People Do Awful Things

March 2011
3 Reasons to Pursue Social Responsibility

April 2011
Visibility is a Great Leadership Strategy

July 2011
Casey Anthony and 4 Dysfunctions of a Team

August 2011
Choice is a Key to Motivation, Engagement

September 2011
Labor Day, and Engagement's Missing Ingredient

February 2012
3 Trends, 4 Questions for Developing Innovative Strategies

September 2012
Mastering the Art of Public Speaking

December 2012
Leaders Use Purpose to Increase Profitability

January 2013
Leadership Model Accelerates Success, Focuses on 5 Areas

February 2013
Look in the Mirror First, but Beware of Blind Spots

March 2013
The Most Powerful Phrase in Leadership

June 2013
Public Speaking As an Important Leadership Skill, and Three Improvement Tips

July 2013
5 Tips to Avoid Snore-Filled Meetings

August 2013
The Adapt or Get Zapped Approach to Innovation

October 2013
Relentless Communication About Purpose
Engages, Motivates Employees

December 2013
3 Rules to Uncover Your Purpose

January 2014
Increased Employee Engagement Leads To Improved Profitability

February 2014
Leaders Should Embrace Conflict