The 4 Be’s of Values-Based Leadership

By Maria Gamb

Unfortunately, every generation has had an exposure to corrupt leaders, politicians, or people in powerful positions. Often the common thread is that they were more concerned about themselves than others. In many instances, their own personal greed became their demise.

Referencing history, we can look back at companies like Enron as an example. In 2001, the company acknowledges that they had overstated earnings by approximately $600 million since 1997. They filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on December 2, 2001. Three months prior to the admission, the CEO raised capital by encouraging stakeholders to buy Enron stock. In the bankruptcy, many employees lost everything while the leadership had pocketed millions in the biggest corporate bankruptcy in U.S. history at that time.

In values-based leadership, the leader is asked to consider the well-being of all the lives the company touches. This may seem to be a very logical principle to some but completely far-fetched to others, which is why the clarification of this concept and mindset is important to detail. Even those who believe they are generous may not fully be expressing it through business. Philanthropy is one expression of generosity. But generosity also means helping people reach their highest potential. Consider asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is my leadership about me gaining exposure or the company’s greater good?
  • Am I operating from a place where everyone wins?
  • Do I care about the health and well-being of my stakeholders, vendors, and customers?
  • Am I fair and ethical in my business practices?

Values-based leaders are selfless rather than selfish and consider the whole rather than themselves. Don’t misunderstand. This is not a matter of becoming a doormat or giving until you have nothing left — becoming an exhausted giver. It also doesn’t mean that the leadership doesn’t profit from sound business strategies, hard work, investments, and so on. Shifting your consciousness is the animation of the mindset of selflessness. The term servant leadership became popular in 1970, when Robert K. Greenleaf launched his essay “The Servant as Leader.” We are expanding that concept into the practical application in the workplace for you and your leadership team. The four Be’s discussed offer a means to help you compartmentalize and contextualize the VBL mindset.

Defining the 4 Be’s

You may not be responsible for others in your company, literally. You can’t control others. You’re responsible for yourself and your own actions. You can guide others down a pathway, but the choice will always be theirs. However, as a leader you have responsibility to your stakeholders, shareholders, and business associates to operate from a higher level of consciousness.

The following four Be’s provide a good framework for the agreement you make with each stakeholder to operate with a higher consciousness and establish an alignment of cooperation, caring, and selflessness:

  • Be of service. Serve and facilitate the business by providing the stakeholders tools that create jobs, profits, and opportunities for all.
  • Be a guardian. Safeguard against actions motivated by ego. Be willing to keep others’ egos in check too, so the group’s results are in alignment with the values you’ve set forth.
  • Be generous. Be willing to give to others. Nurture the highest good in all members of your team so they can reach their highest potential. Share your wisdom. Be supportive and encouraging.
  • Be diligent. Do whatever you can to ensure that the rights of others aren’t violated due to your business practices.

Deploying the 4 Be’s with clarity

When the agreement between the leaders and the stakeholders is based on the four Be’s, the translation is as follows:

I, the leader, will always do my best to give you the tools you need to do your job. If I can offer any wisdom or advice to shortcut the process for you, I will happily do so. I will do my very best to be ego-neutral and ask you to do the same. And I promise not to turn the workplace into a fight club where only one survives. This means no unhealthy competition or discrimination.

There is not a literal statement to be issued to every new employee. But all leaders and managers within the organization should be aware of your expectations of behavior. This is one aspect of creating a safe, healthy workplace for them. When you do — when you deploy the Be’s and ask the leaders and managers on your hierarchy tree to be in alignment with them — you may need to provide an example.

Clarity is king. Never leave them guessing.

In the case of company ABC, after interviewing several team members, including the team leader (Chuck), it became clear that Chuck had been withholding tools from his team. In fact, he was having them compete for the tools they needed to do their job. Whoever was in his good graces received the necessary tool(s): connections, leads, contacts, or other resources such as required data. Those who weren’t often stayed late and struggled to meet their deadlines. Morale on the team was terrible. Productivity and effectiveness were very low.

One team member said, “It’s not that I don’t like my teammates, but every day it’s a competition. It’s exhausting. Just give me the tools I need and I’ll do my job well. But without it, I feel like I can’t win.” Another said, “I’m set up to fail. Some days I just don’t want to be bothered.” It was clear no one felt like they could win. Everyone was in survival mode.

In case you’re wondering, Chuck was very surprised. Chuck didn’t realize the damage that he had inflicted on the team. Unfortunately, this was the model that Chuck knew — this is how his previous company had operated. So, it was completely normal for him. He was taught that this would be motivational for all involved. As the expectations were explained, he became annoyed and defensive. However, given 48 hours to think about it, he returned to the conversation, acknowledged his bad behavior, and gave his word to work more in alignment with the company’s values. Three years later, Chuck is still thriving at that very same company. Even he’s admitted, “You know, even I’m happier working this way, although it’s not always easy.”

People may not always realize that what they’re doing is hurtful or destructive. Be gracious enough to give them the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to shift their own consciousness.

Seeing kindness in the 4 Be’s

As many have observed, we are spiritual beings having a human experience every day. As we continue to evolve on our human journey, the call to integrate our spirituality into everything we do is a gentle wave that permeates our culture. This is the integration of heart and soul. Several aspects of spirituality can be expressed in business, but the foundational concept for this discussion about values-based leadership is to couple selflessness with one of kindness.

Kindness is a concept that has been taught in most major religions and philosophies in the world today (see the nearby sidebar for more information). Be kind. In that kindness, be generous and care for others. There are different specific applications based on any given situation, but the four Be’s represent kindness in a leadership position:

  • Be of service. Transparency is a great example of service to others. To be kind is to be forthcoming with information to get a project done on time, well, and thoroughly. Leaders who play shell games with their teams are being manipulative or passive-aggressive. However, taking the time to provide what’s needed imparts the team members with the capacity to win.

A good leader, a kind leader, helps remove obstacles so a team member can do their job to the best of their ability. Coaching sometimes comes after the issue has been resolved. For example, Joan can’t submit project plans for a new hotel without a complete survey and a budget. The survey has been provided, but the budget seems to be taking a long time. When it reaches her desk, she sees information missing. No matter how diplomatic Joan is, she can’t get the complete report from the finance team. Joan’s leader, Tim, steps in and helps her get what she needs without chastising her. After the project is complete, Tim coaches Joan on how to handle the situation the next time.

  • Be a guardian. Egos can run rampant within a team. Socially, even within the most aware organizations, a belief of “us versus them” betterment may be in place. When a win is more about one person or a small group of people needing to be right, it’s a red flag that the shadow side of ego is in play.

Consider this example: Dan was a field leader with an enormously talented team. He allowed them to run projects and sites without interruption, which should have made his team feel empowered. However, Dan liked to ride in like a knight on a white horse and offer the perfect solution in front of senior leadership and wipe away anything the team has done. The light shone solely on Dan, and the team knew he was an egomaniac. Ultimately, the senior leader needed to remind Dan that while he was in charge, making the solutions all about him and not working with the team through the process made him look self-serving and diminished his talented team. Unfortunately, Dan never could allow himself to be part of the process and a guardian of the team. It was always all about him. Ultimately, Dan parted ways with the organization because he could never fully embrace the kindness he was asked to display. In fact, it baffled him.

  • Be generous. Allowing others to grow and shine is one interpretation of this concept. As in the preceding example, Dan just couldn’t handle anyone growing or shining except himself. Another example of generosity is extending yourself to those around you in order to make others feel nurtured. This principle sounds fluffy, but here’s the thing: If you know what someone needs (like encouragement or to be included or given a shred of hope), isn’t it the kind thing to do? It costs you absolutely nothing but a bit of your time. Ask your peers and staff what they need and how you can support them. Don’t do everything for them; give them what they need to excel.
  • Be diligent. Preserving the rights of others in your pursuit of personal and professional accomplishment isn’t often discussed, but nonetheless it’s part of the code of a values-based leader. Violating the rights of others comes down to a few basic questions: Are you violating their freedom, environment, ability to make a living, or safety? Basically, many of these issues are part of most companies’ human resources guidelines in their most basic interpretation. A leader is required to consider the ramifications of their decisions and actions on others. Kindness and common sense are the tools.

Here are some examples: During a blizzard, staff shouldn’t be required to risk their safety to get into the office. Avoid placing the production of products in areas that allow toxic dumping that pollutes homes, either in the United States or abroad. Those examples are pretty obvious. Additionally, you may have seen a leader who holds production or orders over a vendor’s head to bend the vendor to their will; that’s a violation of dignity and the right to make a living. Engaging with resources that use child labor is also a violation of law and consciousness. Instead, the kind and diligent path is to find resources that negotiate fairly, treat their own teams in accordance with the law, and allow all parties to profit from their work together.

We can roll out our yoga mats. Spend hours in meditation. Pray. Take a silent retreat. Fast. These are all worthy practices that are very personal and fulfilling. It’s time to take that goodness into business to create an environment that will allow capitalism to flourish, being ethical and fair to all. In selflessness and kindness, we find a platform that will spur mutual respect and commitment to follow the leader.

Many years ago, I worked for an amazing leader. He was without a doubt one of the best living, breathing examples of kindness I’d ever witnessed in big business. He operated under the belief that everyone has the capacity to exceed his expectations and that every team member should win in the process, and he made sure wages and hiring practices were fair. Milestones, accomplishments, and successes were celebrated. He milled around the cubicles getting to know each person in this triple-digit-million-dollar organization and was always willing to offer encouragement or a joke.

This man was so loved by his team that it was inspirational. He made all of us want to be better leaders — leaders like him — not only because he was so kind to everyone but also because he was able to make tough decisions when necessary. With his genuine expressions of kindness and business sense, he was able to pull a division out of the depths of failure, restoring it to a thriving entity again. His ceaseless generosity inspired others to work harder and stay on the course he laid out, even through dark, ugly times. During any shift, things can indeed get messy, but even during those tough times, he never wavered in his commitment to kindness. It is under the greatest adversity that there exists the greatest potential for doing good both for one’s self and others is a sage insight from the Dalai Lama.

The integration of kindness should be seamless, graceful, and without fanfare. When it’s not, you’ll be at risk of looking as if you’re seeking attention for yourself. Just embody kindness without the desire for acknowledgment.