The Power of Values-Based Leadership

Creating sustainable organization by igniting human potential

BY Tatiana Sehring

Mark Fernandes, chief leadership officer of Luck Companies, has a true passion for inspiring people to reach their highest potential. The values-based leadership (VBL) ambassador was named one of the 100 Top Thought Leaders in Trustworthy Business 2014 by Trust Across America.

Q:When exactly was your “A-HA”moment that helped you transform your mindset and leadership style?

Fernandes: I was basically a big guy with a bad attitude. I got things done without regard to how I got it accomplished. Conversely, our CEO Charlie Luck was my absolute opposite:    a big care bear. And what I value is that he kept hanging in there with me, when I was trying to figure everything out. 

In 1993, I traveled to North Carolina to meet Dr. Gerald Bell, who runs Bell Labs at UNC Chapel Hill and wrote the book, “The Carolina Way: Leadership Lessons from a Life In Coaching.” Dr. Bell instantly gained my respect. He said, “I’ve interviewed 5,000 executives, and I want to explain how this story is going to end for you. You need to know that you’re going to have a shiny exotic car, a beautiful estate sitting on the hill overlooking everyone else, and a really big house — but you also have to know that there isn’t going to be one soul to share it with if you don’t start figuring this out.”

That moment was the first time I realized that I needed to care and be compassionate. And that was my “a-ha” moment.

Q:Would you take us through luck companies’ JOURNEY OF LEADERSHIP and CULTURE TRANSFORMATION’?

Fernandes: We began our organizational leadership journey in 2003-2004 as phase one. The start of phase two came after we decided to rewrite our mission statement in 2009. We’d done so well establishing our values. We understood the power of leadership, but we learned a few lessons the hard way, and phase one taught us that if there’s ever to be a change in the culture, it’s imperative that the leaders be fully committed to demonstrating the values in everything they do. There’s a level of inauthenticity that associates will notice and it can erode their trust in the leadership if they’re not actively seeing the behaviors exhibited in the actions and words of their leaders. So we developed a mission statement that stated “We will ignite human potential through VBL to positively impact the lives of others around the world.”

VBL, as an ideology and model, was a new concept. We wanted to use what we learned to develop a leadership model to help our associates meet what they’re capable of becoming and then start sharing it with the world. We thought, maybe we’re on to something here.

There are only a few components that serve as the overall responsibility of our VBL team. First is that we model the way. We hold ourselves to the highest standard. When people think of a values-based leader, can they look at us and see what we embrace? The second thing we do is enhance and evolve the VBL model. While it is an ideology, it’s also a set of processes, models, tools and programs that we’re constantly evolving. So we’re modeling ourselves using our actions and behaviors while also continuing to develop the model.

And there are two more imperatives; the first is to bring it to life within the company. This means that we own leadership, development and succession inside the company. Secondly, we’re invested in sharing it with the world through mentoring, speaking, teaching, and consulting across industries.

Q: What are the benifits that come with the applications of VBL from an ORGANIZATION standponit?

Fernandes: We believe that companies exist for two reasons: one is to make meaning, and the other is to make money, because — let’s be genuine — we’re a for-profit company. You can’t apologize for that, because you need to make the money in order to make the meaning and vice versa.

Why does this matter and how does this work? We tell companies to think about the difference you want to make in the world (e.g., human potential and how to positively impact lives around the world) and then think about the way in which you’ll strategically see the return on your in- vestment and make money. The way you bring that to life is centered on the reasons why your associates get up in the morning, do what they do every day, and how they make decisions.

So we ask, “How do we get aligned to the mission and the margin and empower our as- sociates the best way possible to make the best decisions? That’s where our values come in. Values ultimately drive actions, behaviors and decisions.” While we have mission, strategy, goal, objective, performance and outcome, we also have a set of values. We identified the deepest held beliefs as to what is right and good for everyone in the organization to deliver the mission and the margin. Not only do we have those values, but we have outcome statements that are tied to them. For example, one of our values is leadership, and the outcome we’re looking for is igniting human poten- tial. We want our people to be happy, but we also want them to operate with some shared values and beliefs that are most important to the company. That, to me, is magical.

Q: What advice would you offer others on how to create and maintain a VALUES-BASED CULTURE AND ORGANIZATION?

Fernandes: Okay, let’s assume everyone has clarity about the stated mission — your values, strategy and objectives. Now, how do you bring it to life for the long-term?

The organization’s leaders need to model, as the associates are going to take their queues from leaders.

The next step is to look at the processes, models and tools that we need to embed in the organization to bring values to life throughout the enterprise — and how do we keep it fresh and engaging?

It starts with hiring. At Luck Companies, you’ll take a values-assessment during the interview process so that-right out of the gate. We’re much more interested in who you are than what you know. We can teach all of the technical aspects of the job, but identifying who you are helps us to align the right candidates to our mission and margin.

Next is orientation, and our associates dive into the deep end of the values pool. Associates at all levels participate in a values assessment to understand their personality — and they’ll interact with a senior leader. This process begins during job description, which reflects our values and behaviors just as equally as the technical skills. And we revisit values during performance reviews. We reinforce this in all aspects of training and development through recognition and reward and tying base pay to how the associate is going to show up every day.

We build our succession planning around VBL. That’s the doing good and doing well aspects of business performance that extend to everything we do. This includes rituals. For example, at our plants, we start every day with a meeting where someone reads the mission statement then picks a value and talks about it. So you’ll see these rituals embedded around the company to keep it alive.

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