Intolerance: The Ultimate Leadership Value
Integrity, customer focus, innovation, quality, trust, teamwork, responsibility, diversity, value, respect, passion, fairness, excellence……
Can you guess which company these values come from? Actually, they do not come from any company, but from the Dilbert Cartoons. When we know that, the sarcasm becomes clear. Otherwise, we might be tempted to think that these were real values of a real company somewhere. Maybe they are!
Any one who has worked on defining or implementing values know that this is difficult work. And any manager who has received a statement of values from the company’s leadership knows that it is often hard to see how these statements should change their daily behaviours.
One solution to these problems is often overlooked in the current environment of political correctness. This solution is intolerance. Intolerance is actually the foundation for both defining and implementing company values. And it is what leadership is all about.
A company that is tolerant of everything has no culture. It has no direction. Or said in another way, it goes in all directions at once. Defining culture and leadership values is, like strategy, about making choices. A common measure for strategy for strategy effectiveness is to look at how many directions and activities the strategy explicitly eliminates. How much work it chooses not to focus on. If this list is not large and clear, the strategy is unlikely to be effective.
Defining culture and leadership values works in the same way. What are the behaviours we do not accept? What are the behaviours we expect to see every day from every employee? When will we forego sales or profits in order to stay true to our values? Which values and principles do we want to be better than 99% of other companies on?
When the questions are asked this way – in a very intolerant style – it becomes easier for managers to eliminate those values which are just there for show. Those that are just nice-to-have. Those which we will only live up to as far as the law is concerned, but not further. Those are all important principles. But they are not the core values that uniquely define the company.
Intolerance becomes even more powerful when it comes to deploying the values into the organization. No amount of speeches, powerpoints, webcasts or e-mails will change behaviour to be in line with the chosen values. What will create change is an intolerant leadership behaviour from management. This means calling out any situation when the company either does not fully live up to the core values, or lives up to other values which are not deemed to be core to the company. Any manager who sees his employees acting in ways which are not in line with the values will call it out here and now. Colleagues will remind each other about it when they see inconsistent behaviour or decisions. And – the real proof of deployment – employees will call it out openly when they see their bosses straying from the values.
Political correctness, fear of embarrassement, avoidance of conflict and the search for harmony are all barriers to this. The result is values which collect dust in filing cabinets instead of driving the behaviours, decisions and results of the company. Yes, a little bit of tact is required when criticizing colleagues. It has to be done in the spirit of collaboring to build a better company. But this is entirely possible for most people to do, especially if senior management shows the way first. Then, it can even be fun!
Intolerance does not sound nice. But in the case of company culture and values, it is. It is in fact a prequisite for having any type of clear culture or set of values.