Values-Based Leadership


Leadership Values - 11/12/18

This week on the Fearless Creative Leadership podcast, I talked to Paul Venables, the founder of Venables Bell + Partners. During our conversation, the topic of leadership values came up. Here’s some more thinking on that all-important aspect of modern, creative and fearless leadership.

Courage comes in many forms. What is effortless to one person looms as an existential threat to another.  

Which is one of the reasons why leadership values is such a complex topic.

On its surface, it seems like a simple task. Define the behaviors that matter to you. Then follow them.

But the problem with values is that they sit quietly in the dark when everything is going well, then suddenly emerge and tap you on the shoulder - or worse - when a problem blows up. 

And in creative businesses, problems blow up all the time - it’s the nature of the force.

When, as you are the leader, you find yourself standing face to face with your values you are confronted with two choices. 

Follow them or abandon them forever. Because once you’ve given your values the head fake, your people don’t trust you any more.

So, define your values based on a simple question - would I be willing to lose my job over this principle? If the answer is no, then it’s not a value. It’s a broken promise. To the people that work for you. And more importantly, to yourself.

But there’s another reason why the question of leadership values challenge even the very best.

Leadership is about other people. What do they want? It’s about making big decisions and tough calls. What’s the right path? What happens if I’m wrong? It’s filled with endless politics and agendas, framed by the expectation that you will act in the interest of the whole even when the loudest individual is standing right in front of you. It’s about balancing predictability and uncertainty. Clarity and ambiguity.

But in the middle of that vortex, in the face of that storm, there is one person that often gets overlooked. 


The human being behind the title. The person that gets a lot of recognition but little acknowledgement. The person that everyone knows but no one knows. The person for whom “it’s lonely at the top”, is not a cliche. It’s a reality.

Which is why, when all is said and done, the only person you can worry about answering to is you. 

If you want to know whether you are a leader who has meaningful values write down what you say - and then write down what you do. The answer will be staring back at you in black and white.

What are your values? What do you stand for?