This article by Linda Zander originally published on

I was sitting in front of a tenured senior manager of a world-renowned corporation, listening to his management problems. He was having a difficult time motivating his team to meet performance objectives. His overwhelm and panic induced by their underwhelming numbers was palpable. After he exhausted himself of his concerns, he looked directly at me, folded his arms across his chest and said, “Where do I go from here? I’ve tried everything I know.”

To make an assessment and provide positive direction, I proceeded to ask him a few key questions:

1. What is your management style?

2. How do you motivate your team?

3. What is your company’s core value?

4. What is your core value?

5. What is your relationship status with whom you report to?

6. How do you help your employees achieve their personal goals?

He paused. He didn’t have any answers. After a moment, he responded with:

1. “My management style is tough.”

2. “I motivate my team by telling them that they’re not doing well enough.”

3. “I don’t know what my company’s core value is.” (Even he was surprised that after a decade, he still hadn’t known or hadn’t thought to ask.)

4. “My core value is love.”

5. “I report to someone who’s fairly ‘macho.’ I’d like to speak more openly with him about how I feel, but I fear he’ll perceive me as weak.”

6. “I’ve never thought about how to help my employees achieve their goals. Why is that important?”

What his answers revealed is that he didn’t have a clearly defined, non-conflicting set of values to effectively direct and drive his actions.

Given the sheer size and financial strength of this household-name brand, there certainly had to have been a values statement and guiding set of principles in place to have grown it to the global level of success that it had achieved. But, after our session and subsequent talks with other high-level executives in the corporation, I discovered that they had lost sight of them and slipped into a “too big to fail” and “hands-off” corporate mentality.

Adopting one or the other is dangerous, but together, it’s potentially disastrous. A “too big to fail” mentality coupled with intentionally handing off the shaping of corporate culture to franchisees (asserting that if their risks failed, taxpayers would bear their loss) was causing a double-whammy moral hazard. From the top down, the corporation was engaging in exaggerated risk taking, weakening the fabric of the once powerful corporate culture and market discipline that had paved their path to success. Distancing themselves from their founding set of principles, they were now experiencing lost market share.

Shaping and sustaining a corporate culture reflective of a company’s values, beliefs and behaviors starts from the top. Founding leaders should know what their values are and work diligently to create a corporate culture that is aligned with them to be perceived and experienced by their employees and customers. The external success achieved is the result of the internal values that leaders instill.

The above corporation had gotten complacent, and if they didn’t hit the refresh button soon, they’d be facing even greater declining profits and brand erosion.

To be a highly effective and successful leader one must:

1. Have a clear set of non-conflicting values in place driving every communication, behavior and action.

2. Align themselves with individuals and organizations with like-minded values.

3. Never lose sight of your values regardless of challenges or how successful you become.

4. Help others to achieve success.

Start by asking yourself the six key questions above and answering them honestly. Your answers will help you analyze your current positioning in having a solid set of values and where they may need modifying. Once clearly defined, let your values direct your leadership activities to optimally foster an open, positive and motivational environment where attaining goals and sustaining success can consistently be achieved by you and your team.

Without consistently living a set of clear and non-conflicting values, there is no effective strategy or direct path to achieving and sustaining success.