Leading by Values: Authenticity, Integrity, and Impact

As a leader, you have to know your values. 

When we have clarity on values and know exactly what we are orienting to, it provides ease, consistency, and freedom. We don’t need to invest a significant amount of time deliberating decisions. The values we already know we hold and live by offer a clear compass for action. 

For me, three of my top values that I prioritize in my business are: authenticity, integrity, and impact. With these serving as guardrails to help guide my decisions, it’s much easier for me to identify when there is alignment with clients and to distinguish the best next steps. 

When it comes to authenticity, I consider whether or not I can truly show up as myself. Am I able to work with this person or organization in a manner where my full self is able to be brought to the table? I wear tennis shoes, leggings, and a brightly-colored blazer when I work, but if the company culture or the conference that was asking me to speak wanted me to show up differently (think: heels and a skirt), that would be an immediate no-go. Moving beyond the physical appearance, if a group wanted me to dance around tough topics or substitute words for specific concepts in a way that made it inauthentic for me to help them, I’d have to say no. I have a direct, yet empathetic approach, and that’s how I facilitate, train, and coach.

Integrity has been a core value since early childhood. This was a drumbeat of a conversation in our house, and I took it seriously. I still do. There are a few definitions of integrity, but the two that resonate most with me in terms of how I lead from my values are: adhering to a strict ethical code and the state of being whole or quality of being complete. I’ve always had a code of ethics that I’ve lived by. At times it’s been embodied by organizations I’ve belonged to, and at other times, not so much. For me, however, my internal compass points to right and wrong pretty clearly, even when decisions are difficult. The idea of being whole or complete is also a critical aspect of this value, and it connects directly back to authenticity. It can be hard when I’m challenged on a stance or statement, because it’s often easier to back down from a hard thing, but that would compromise my authenticity and leave me incomplete. Knowing clearly that integrity is a core value helps me stay strong, even when it’s hard. 

IMPACT. I always read that word and imagine it in my head in all capital letters. Remember the “Impact” font? That’s how I see it, too. I choose where to put my time, energy, and resources very intentionally, and if I’m going to invest those things, I want there to be impact. If I’m being asked to work with a client or organization or speak to a group of people, I want my time and words to have an impact. I want them to be able to take away something practical, to have healed a little, to feel more empowered or more ready. If it’s a group I know won’t resonate with my topics or that the individual is not ready for next steps or willing to grow, I’ll say no to the engagement. For me, there’s nothing worse than ending my day or my time with a leader or team and feeling like it didn’t move the needle. 

A number of years ago, I was approached by an organization that was asking for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion training. As a cisgender, heterosexual white woman, this isn’t my core space, so I only ever approach these types of engagements with co-facilitators. I assembled a team, and we put together a comprehensive proposal for this organization. The company’s leaders were excited, and we were about to sign the documents. On the last phone call, one of the agency executives said, “Oh, by the way- we need one change to the proposal before we can move forward. We can’t use the words Diversity or Inclusion.” 

The silence was loud. I was honestly trying to process how we’d gotten this far and not known this was a hold-up for them. I asked for clarification and received it. They were certain these words couldn’t be used and instead wanted it to be a “respect and kindness” series of trainings. “Same concepts,” they said, “but without using those words.” I knew my co-facilitator well enough to know he was thinking the same thing I was thinking. 

Authenticity: how could we possibly be authentic when talking about such critical topics but without being able to do so directly? 

Integrity: Approaching something from such a sideways angle and such an obvious sidestep of core issues didn’t match who we were as facilitators, let alone as human beings. We would be doing the organization a disservice approaching it in this manner. 

Impact: Unless we were able to have the real conversations the organization needed to have (which were most decidedly NOT about respect and kindness and WERE definitely about diversity, equity, and inclusion), the time, energy, and resources we’d invest in the engagement wouldn’t have the impact we wanted to have. 

Long story short, we said no to the engagement. Leading by values isn’t always easy, and it’s definitely not always comfortable, but it is intrinsically rewarding. And guess what? A client came along that needed different work, that was totally aligned to these values, and I was able to use my time in a powerful way. Mission accomplished. 

- Nicole



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