Leaders: Know Your Values – Live Them
August 19, 2019 | By Mathew Waller
When I became dean at the Sam M. Walton College of Business, I tacitly agreed to fulfill the organization’s vision, mission, values, strategies, and priorities. I consider that my mandate as the leader of the college, and I feel obligated to either achieve that mandate or change it. Either way, memorizing those key components is an essential first step. It’s been invaluable to my leadership, and I believe it’s vital for other leaders, as well.
A leader influences the activities and conversations that determine where the organization ends up, and a deep understanding of the mandate is crucial to using that influence effectively and wisely. The ability to recall the components of the mandate won’t produce the level of understanding I’m talking about. The elements of an organization’s mandate must be heavily rooted in the mind and heart of the leader. It has to be committed into the leader, not just into the leader’s memory banks. However, memorizing it verbatim is essential to achieve that deep-level commitment successfully.
A Committed Mandate Reinforces Procedural Justice
An organization’s mandate typically is created collectively through a strategic planning process, not handed down from on high by a leader. Ideally, that process has procedural justice that results from giving everyone in the organization a voice. Research has shown that procedural justice increases the alignment of employees and their commitment to the organization[i]. Creating the organizational mandate in this way makes it a committed mandate, so that there is inherent procedural justice in the implementation – the organization created the mandate, and the leaders are implementing it.
Leaders prove their commitment in part through interactions with people throughout the organization. Leaders communicate in a variety of ways, and it’s no longer a one-way street. Technology has changed that for good. Leaders and the organizations they serve now are in a constant dialogue. When leaders have committed to their mandate, they can be more articulate when sharing how their decisions support that mandate. This technology-enabled dialogue is fast-paced, and leaders don’t have time to ruminate over possible responses. When the mandate is committed and applied over and over in an informed manner, the organization can move forward more quickly, more thoroughly, and with fewer distractions.
At the same time, leaders who have committed to the mandate still need to seek the opinions of others. In fact, continually seeking diverse opinions on issues affected by the mandate increases the degree to which the mandate is committed, make leaders more informed, and helps them lead more effectively. Having the mandate deeply committed can be dangerous if you become ridged in your application, so it is important to discuss it with others continually. You want to be sturdy but not unyielding.
A Committed Mandate Emphasizes Process and Builds Trust
Over time, as you commit the mandate, practice applying it, practice discussing it, make decisions based on it and seek input from others about it, including its meaning and proper application, you will more and more become the archetypical member of the organization. Keep in mind; this archetype was created by the organization and for the organization. As you help the organization move toward what it wants to become, others will want to accompany you on the journey. This brings about order and consistency, while also helping you lead necessary change. You won’t be able to lead change in the organization if people don’t want to accompany you on the journey.
My favorite definition of leadership is by Peter Northouse: “Leadership is a process whereby an individual influence a group of individuals to achieve a common goal.”[ii]I like it because it emphasizes the process of the characteristics of the leader. When we commit the mandate, we improve the process for influencing individuals to achieve the common goal.
The reason for this is that when the mandate is truly committed, then the dialogue with individuals is improved and the common goal – the mandate – is more transparent, visible, and consistently articulated. Deeply embedding all of this in your memory, and you have applied it many times, your ability to communicate it increases with this practice. It also allows you to create insights on the fly that are directly related to the mandate. Then people will become more confident in your commitment to the organization and with your competence in leading the organization. Over time, your consistency with application of the mandate shows people you are a dependable steward of the vision, mission, values, strategies, and priorities of the organization.
A Committed Mandate Enables Necessary Changes to the Mandate
The strategies and priorities of an organization often need to change in response to the ever-changing world in which we operate. The vision, mission, and values are more stable but still might need to change from time to time. In either case, leaders should first memorize and commit those components so they can contemplate them thoroughly before suggesting any changes. Changing any parts of the mandate without a deep understanding of them is an injustice to the organization that created them. Leaders should carefully and thoroughly contemplate any aspect of the mandate we think should change. After that, if it is still clear that change is needed and we have explored it with the leadership of the organization and other stakeholders, then we need to be decisive in making the change while also carefully constructing a just process for making it.
10 Tips for Committing Your Mandate
- Memorize the mandate
- Consider current initiatives and resource allocations of the organization, and practice explaining why they facilitate or deter from the mandate.
- When writing emails to people in the organization about decisions, include relevant aspects of the mandate and use logic to connect the decisions of the mandates.
- When making presentations to the organization, recite parts of the mandate and explain how what you are presenting relates to the mandate or parts of the mandate.
- Ask people to discuss the mandate with you.
- Find out which elements of the mandate are measured and how they are measured. If any elements are't measured, find out why.
- Ask your leadership team to describe how parts of the mandate are being achieved and how parts are being neglected.
- Open meetings by reciting parts of the mandate and explain why the meeting and explain why the meeting pertains to the mandate.
- When a decision is made to support a new initiative or to provide resources to a new initiative, tie it to the mandate both verbally and in writing.
- When a decision is made not to support a new initiative, explain the decision in light of the mandate. If a contrary argument is made that the initiative would support the mandate, then listen carefully. You might want to take some time, think about it, and then reply later. We have an obligation as leaders to fulfill the vision, mission, values, strategies, and priorities of our organization or, when necessary, to make a case for changing them.
Memorizing the mandate allows us to ruminate on all of its nuanced and subtle elements, which makes us more informed and allows us to make decisions more intelligently. It allows us to be an articulate win-win decisionmaker driven by a commitment to fulfill our obligation to and respect for the mandate.
[i]McFarlin, Dean B., and Paul D. Sweeney. “Distributive and procedural justice as predictors of satisfaction with personal and organizational outcomes.” Academy of Management Journal 35, no. 3 (1992): 626-637. [ii]Northouse, Peter G. Leadership: Theory and practice. Sage publications, 2018.