Effective Leadership: 2 Steps to Harnessing the Energy of Core Values

sign saying do good

by Terry Wall

The death of Pope John Paul II in 2005 prompted me to ask a question with leadership implications. I remember the amazing outpouring of support and admiration for the Pope, because it seemed more than just people saying nice things about someone who had died.

Such genuine accolades from Catholics was understandable, but why, I wondered, was it also coming from other Christian denominations, from non-Christian religions, and from others who had vehemently disagreed with the Pope on certain issues?

For me it came down to one aspect of leadership. This aspect was probably best expressed by the cabbie who informed me of the Pope’s death in the late afternoon of that April Saturday.


He was young, a non-Catholic from Kenya, and when I asked why he was so moved by the Pope’s death, he replied, “Because the man had a great commitment to humanity, to the poor, and to making the world a better place.”

The more I thought about what the cabbie said, the more I saw that the cabbie had hit upon an important aspect of leadership: Those who display unwavering commitment to core principles seem to be great leaders. We tend to admire them, even though we might disagree with them.

The same could be said of other religious leaders, like Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama. They believe passionately in certain values or principles, and people see that, and respect them.

The concept of having core values is important for us, because if we want people to regard us as leaders, we must have core principles that guide us, not just when everyone is with us, but even in those times when people are against us.

You can’t have principles that change with the wind, or with the latest poll. I’ve often talked about the importance of trust, and I believe that people will trust you more, if they believe that you are guided by core principles.

Having those principles, though, isn’t enough. We must also express them with actions AND with words. We all know that “actions speak louder than words.” But I believe that actions AND words speak louder than actions alone, that actions AND words have a powerful synergy.

A couple weeks ago a senior manager lamented to me that her direct reports did not appreciate all the times that she jumped in and helped with the workload. I asked if she was certain that those direct reports were really aware that she was helping out in this way.

I pointed out that even though her helping out occurred in a part of the facility where her direct reports were coming and going, they might not have really noticed.

She agreed this was possible, so I suggested that she needed to verbally express this core value (pitching in when others need help), so that it complements her actions. She need not jump on her desk and shout out, “Here’s a list of all the times I’ve pitched in!”

She must be more subtle than that. She should simply sprinkle it into the conversation at her next staff meeting: “You know, when I was filling in for John on the XYZ project, I noticed that… ”

When we’re not on the world or national stage, we can’t rely on encyclicals or speeches to get our message out. We must do it verbally, but in a subtle way that doesn’t seem self-serving. This isn’t deceptive or manipulative. It’s what effective leaders do.

If you want to use core values to energize your leadership, take these 2 steps:

1. Identify the core values that underpin everything you do
2. Start expressing those core values in actions AND words

Keep leading the way!

About the author

Terry Wall–Accelerating Organizational Excellence through: Leadership Development, Facilitation & Strategic Direction, Team Building, Executive Coaching, Assessments & Surveys http://www.terrywall.com