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Don't be Clark Griswold: Why ‘Values’ are the Best Compass for Leadership

Clark Griswold's misadventures in "National Lampoon's Vacation" is a masterclass in messing up. Chevy Chase embodies the lovable yet stubborn patriarch who repeatedly loses his way in his earnest attempts to give his family the perfect road trip. The comedy unfolds as he determinedly refuses to ask for directions, leading the Griswolds into one hilarious predicament after another. It's entertaining on the big screen but in the corporate world? Not so much. Imagine leading your team down the winding roads of the business world without a roadmap or refusing to seek guidance when you're clearly off course.

In our recent Virtual Culture Labs Podcast, Dan Kasper and Guy Hart talked about the vital nature of company values. Guy put his finger on the mark when he said, 

“The thing about values is that if people don't own them, then they're just words.”

While Clark Griswold only needed to reach for a paper map, setting a course with your team can be harder. Putting values on a sheet of paper or on a wall might remain just words… That’s why it’s so important to take time to internalize and embody your values so they can become the true compass your workplace culture needs to thrive. 

Clear Communication is Key

Think back to any great leader you've known, and there's a good chance that one of their strengths was communication. It's not just about relaying information but ensuring that the team understands the company's core values. It's tempting to assume that everyone "gets it," but it's often not the case. It's like expecting Clark to intuitively know the way to Wally World without a map. By openly discussing and defining these values and allowing the entire team to share their ideas, leaders can ensure that the team is moving in the same direction.

Actions Over Words

Now comes the harder path. True leadership requires living those values every day, showing your team that you're not just paying lip service. What your employees see you doing is what they're more likely to emulate. If they know you cut corners when it comes to your expressed values, they’re not going to take them as seriously. 

Don’t get us wrong. Effectively, clearly, and regularly communicating your values is vital to laying the foundation for your culture. But the best way to make it stick is to live them out. We all make mistakes, so why not make “owning up” one of your company values, too? 

Being open to Feedback

Even though he's a fictional character, we can all agree that Clark could have benefited from listening to his family a little more. Similarly, leaders should actively seek feedback. Building a thriving culture requires everyone to invest and grow together, and inviting others to take ownership and give their leaders helpful feedback is a great way to build more cohesion. When team members feel their insights are valued, it fosters a culture of trust and mutual respect.

5 Minutes to Recalibrate Your Compass

To truly internalize and live out your company's values, having a moment of introspection at the end of each day is helpful. Here's a simple yet transformative practice for leaders:

  1. Find a Quiet Space: At the close of your day, find a quiet spot where you won't be disturbed. This can be a corner in your home, a peaceful outdoor setting, or even your office.

  2. Reflect on Moments of Alignment: Think back on your day. Identify instances where you actively embodied your company's core values. Maybe it was a decision you made, a conversation you had, or the way you responded to a challenge. Relish these moments; they are affirmations of your commitment.

  3. Recognize the Missteps: Equally important is acknowledging the times when you might have veered off course. Were there instances where you could've better aligned with your company's values? Perhaps there was a missed opportunity, a snap judgment, or a situation where you weren't as inclusive or understanding as you could've been. Recognize these moments without judgment. They're valuable learning experiences.

  4. Envision Tomorrow: After reflecting on the day, take a moment to think about tomorrow. How can you better align your actions with your values? What can you do differently? Picture yourself in scenarios where you're fully embodying those core values.

  5. Commit to Growth: Finally, make a mental or even written commitment to yourself. Promise to strive towards alignment with your values in the coming days. Remember, it's a journey of continuous growth and self-improvement.

By dedicating just five minutes each night to this reflective practice, you'll find yourself becoming more attuned to your actions and their alignment with your company's values. Over time, you’ll notice yourself more naturally acting out of your values. This will enhance your leadership style and foster a stronger, value-driven organizational culture.

Harnessing AI to Stay on Couse

In the vast jungle of corporate leadership, it's not uncommon for companies to occasionally drift off course. While introspection and reflection are powerful tools in a leader's arsenal, modern technology offers additional support. Tools like Instill's Culture Vital Signs™ leverage the power of artificial intelligence to identify the subtle yet impactful nuances of a company's culture. By analyzing data and employee feedback, it provides insights into areas of strength and those that might need a nudge in the right direction.

Just as Clark Griswold could have benefitted from a GPS to navigate the family through their adventurous vacations, leaders today can use AI-driven tools to keep their company's journey aligned with its core values. Through a combination of personal reflection and leveraging cutting-edge technology, today's leaders can ensure that their company not only knows where it's going but enjoys a fulfilling, value-driven journey along the way.


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