Live your values.  

👆🏽Those three words =  the present-day mantra of every influencer, every corporation, every brand, and every thought leader. 

While this should feel refreshing to someone who makes her living helping women business owners discover and live out their values, I’m actually a little concerned >> because while the rallying cry is for everyone to live their values, very little is being done to help people discover what those values actually are.   

Stay with me. . .  

Author and leadership expert Patrick Lencioni has spent a large portion of his professional career helping organizations uncover their values. In that time, he’s come to believe that values are divided into 4 main categories (and I’m using HIS words below, not mine*).  

1. Core values are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones. . . . they can never be compromised, either for convenience or short-term economic gain.

Core values often reflect the values of the company’s founders—Hewlett-Packard’s celebrated “HP Way” is an example. They are the source of a company’s distinctiveness and must be maintained at all costs. 

2. Aspirational values are those that a company needs to succeed in the future but currently lacks.

A company may need to develop a new value to support a new strategy, for example, or to meet the requirements of a changing market or industry. Aspirational values need to be carefully managed to ensure that they do not dilute the core.  

3. Permission-to-play values simply reflect the minimum behavioral and social standards required of any employee.

They tend not to vary much across companies, particularly those working in the same region or industry, which means that, by definition, they never really help distinguish a company from its competitors. 

4. Accidental values arise spontaneously without being cultivated by leadership and take hold over time. They usually reflect the common interests or personalities of the organization’s employees.

Accidental values can be good for a company, such as when they create an atmosphere of inclusivity. But they can also be negative forces, foreclosing new opportunities. 

Managers always need to distinguish core values from merely accidental ones, as confusion here can be disastrous. 

We have all watched as company after company has stepped into the discussion on human rights. Each day, a new company shows up in our inbox or our social media feeds with a beautifully crafted PR statement on how they are champions of human rights and how, most importantly, black lives matter.  

For many of us who have been watching this unfold, these statements come as long overdue proclamations on unjustifiable injustice and racism, and it’s hard to understand why it’s taken so long for a nation’s collective conscious to awaken.  

But thanks be to God, it has awakened, and it’s causing many to take a step back and look at themselves in ways they may never have done before.  

But. . . I also believe that it’s also causing many to confuse the hierarchy of their values.  

A few weeks ago, I listened to a podcast with Amy Porterfield. She was interviewing a friend of mine, Erica Courdae.

If you don’t know Erica, she’s a champion of diversity and inclusivity, and her voice and her message is one that invites everyone into the conversation.

During their conversation, Amy started talking with Erica about values. Here’s what she said:  “And that idea of these values, one thing that we are doing inside of my business is, we have our set of values. We’ve had them for years, and we don’t have a value around diversity, equity, and inclusion. Believe me, we will very, very soon. I want to be mindful of it.” 

I’m not sure if Amy is intending to create a DEI value as a core value or not, but as I’ve tuned into the myriad of conversations over the last few months, here’s what I’ve come to believe: Any brand that proclaims basic human rights as a core value is a bit misguided>> because championing equality for all isn’t something that should distinguish any brand over another. (After all, isn’t this where we’ve been stuck as a nation since. . . forever?)  

Rather, shouldn’t recognition of basic human rights count as the minimum behavioral and social standards we require out of ANY brand that wants to show up and be heard???? 

If your answer is YES to that question, then can we also agree on this: Recognizing basic human rights is a basic permission-to-play value. 

A core value, on the other hand, is something that sets you apart from your competitors.

It makes you UNUSUAL, and, it’s usually something you’re inclined to take too far.  

Because core values are an inherent part of your brand’s DNA, there’s a danger that begins to surface when you try to substitute a permission-to-play value for a core value, or when you claim to hold a value because it feels like the right thing to do in the moment. 

>>Core values require sacrifice.  

>>They require continual reflection and measurement.  

>>They require tension.  

So this means that if you’re trying to live out someone else’s core values as your own. . .  

>>You will eventually fail.  

>>You will eventually misspeak

 >>You will eventually show up in a way that is incongruent with the perception you’ve created.  

Need help thinking through your values and making sure they align with EVERYTHING else you’re doing? Download the Authenticity Flywheel.

Because we have entered into an age where advocating for basic human rights is finally being understood as a necessary standard of doing business, shouldn’t our goal be to invite every leader, every brand, every corporation onto the same basic playing field?

And then once they’re on that playing field, we need to go one step further. . . issuing an open invitation to stand out from the crowd with a clearly defined set of core values.   

But, it we’re allowed (and encouraged) to show up on the playing field believing we’ve finally arrived, we’re left with a hollow, or woefully incomplete, set of values.

And this leaves us holding our permission-to-play values as our north star >> rather than doing the deep work and discovering the core values that are designed to hold it all together. . . the core values that exist to help us survive and thrive even when the world tips upside down.  

Are you confusing your core values with permission-to-play values?  

What values are causing your brand to sacrifice something in this very moment?  

Do the players in your industry also claim and live out the same core values you’re claiming to hold?  

Take some time this week and next week and the week after that to identify the values that are showing up in your brand.

Are they core values, permission-to-play values, aspirational values, or accidental values?

Knowing the difference matters  both to your own brand culture and to the world that is watching.  

As always, thanks for letting me think through these hard things with you. 

**Patrick Lencioni, “Make your values mean something,” Harvard Business Review, 2002.