Values kill careers: How leaders tune in to avoid derailment

Quick Quiz:

  1. When a woman presents an opinion at work, do you give her the same attention as you would a man?
  2. Do females get the same promotion opportunities as men in your company?
  3. If you witnessed a woman being treated unfairly, inappropriately would you step in and end it? In front of the CEO? To the CEO?

Of course you would! We know the right answers, and yet our behaviors sell us out. I was at an executive breakfast last week and was shocked to walk through the doors into a crowd that was ninety-five percent men! That’s the contribution of ingrained attitudes on a city-wide level.

This newsletter is not about feminism or diversity. It’s about values. We say we value equality, but our actions betray us, revealing true attitudes about roles, power, family and leadership.

With sincerity my clients express the right values: We love teamwork! We value honesty! Then they reward the maverick and take action against someone who challenges an executive.

When action contradicts commitments, there is a high credibility cost. People hesitate before following, and that can extract a heavy price from your strategy.

The most important and useful part of the work I do is to hold up the mirror to what people say and do, highlighting inconsistencies and incorrect assumptions. I raise values to the surface so we can inspect them and determine what needs to be discarded or changed for the good of the individual, and the organization.

This is extremely difficult for leaders to do on their own. Values by their very nature are bedded down deep. Our politically correct and ambitious selves hijack the bad ones in the moment to ensure the right words come out in each situation. We mask them, but those values seep out . Females are passed over for promotions and LGBTQ coworkers end up uninvited to the ‘buddy huddles’.

Here’s the point: If you don’t have a firm understanding of your values, they can derail you very easily. Credibility and careers are trashed in minutes. Roseanne Barr and Megyn Kelly are examples of how deeper views end up coming out disastrously.

Changing Your Mind
Review your company’s values. Or, if they are unwritten, consider what leaders say about how we are to treat people, the environment, non-employees, authorities, even the furniture.

  • What day-to-day actions have you observed that confirm and contradict these values?
  • Thinking more broadly, what evidence exists that values are not being followed? Consider demographics, promotions, investigations, policies, rewards, recruiting, dismissals, power structures…
  • How do leader behaviors (yours and others) line up with the values when under pressure or in emergency situations?
  • How are you expressing favoritism in the way you use your time?

You will find contradictions. The question is, what are you willing to do about it? Who will hold up the mirror for the sake of your career and your strategy?

Thoughtfully yours,

Jeff Skipper