Building character into your organization is a key touchstone of The Roundtable Leadership Philosophy. To have character, you need to know what you stand for. To know what you stand for, you need a clear Mission, Vision, and Values statement. The most important part of that is mentioned last: Values.
What do you value? Determining this first will guide you in what your mission is as an organization, and then your vision to achieve that mission while maintaining your values along the way. Your Mission, Vision, and Values statement is essentially the map and the key to your organization. It will guide the roundtable discussions you have as a team.
Notice I didn’t say “employees” or “direct reports” or “subordinates." This important distinction will affect a mental shift in how you view the people you work with. Right now, you may view them as the people who work for you.
The Roundtable Leadership Philosophy will flip that perspective on its head. It will change how you treat people, resulting in a positive uptick in retention, performance, collaboration, and overall job satisfaction for everyone, including you.
The Roundtable Leadership Philosophy
Roundtable Leadership puts people first and leads with empathy. It takes the time and makes the effort to explain the “whys” behind the directives, empowering the team to learn, grow, and have ownership in the process. This transparency effectively invites the team to the table and opens the door for constructive pushback, fresh ideas, and valuable insights based on each person’s unique life experience, skill set, and individual perspective.
Roundtable Leadership provides a safe space to share ideas and insights with mutual respect and openness, where everyone involved can submit to each other’s strengths, no matter their position in the organization. A space where accountability includes everyone.
With Roundtable Leadership, you submit to your team's strengths while also leading them along the way. As a leader you have clear authority, but you don’t sit at the head of the table because you don’t need to. Your authority is firmly established. It doesn’t need to be proven. Your team respects you and you wear your authority lightly because of it. And, while you exercise your influence as a leader on a regular basis, you do it in a way that gets buy-in from your team, shows your regard for them as individuals, and most of all demonstrates empathy.
Roundtable Leadership puts personal pride aside while also not allowing others to trample the boss. It takes the power that comes with the position and does not flex it. There is no need to because a leader who leads this way doesn’t have to constantly prove that they are in charge. They just are.
This nontraditional form of leadership resonates with today’s workers, or teammates, as we prefer to call our employees. Who wouldn’t choose to work at a company where everyone is valued and their insight is sought after? Where there is no “head of the conference table”, no “corner office”, and no “brass” to rub elbows with. Where the company has character and does more than just turn a profit. Where going to work can become going to a place where you can thrive.
To lead from a round table, you must know what you stand for. You must have your values firmly in hand. It is these values that will inform the character of your organization. They provide guide rails for your decisions and create demand from talent to be part of the mission and contribute to the vision. That is exciting, challenging and rewarding work!
Take the long view to build character
Building Character into your organization takes years because it needs to be demonstrated and proven over time. Reputation, on the other hand, can be built (and dismantled) in a short time.
Character is a reflection of your distinctive qualities - who you are internally, and what your core values are. While your character can build and maintain your reputation as you live and work, reputation is the general opinion of others and how you are seen externally by society.
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden encouraged his players to focus on their character, not on their reputation. He coached the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton (a former Portland Trailblazer) and won 10 national championships in 12 years. Coach Wooden was also the first person to be inducted into the hall of fame both as a player and as coach. He was famous, and he led others that became very famous, yet he focused on character, not reputation.
These same values can be applied to an organization. What are the distinctive qualities of the organization? Who are they internally? What are their core values?
To lead an organization with a Roundtable Leadership philosophy, we must:
- Have a firm grip on the authentic core values of the organization.
- Keep your core values front and center, and easy to refer to when you feel a little lost.
- Recognize that your mission, vision, and values statements need to be updated as the world continues to change, your business evolves over time, and both you and your team gain experience, wisdom, and maturity.
- Get buy-in from your team as you develop and refine your mission, vision, and values statements. Invite their input and ownership in the process.
- Continue to check, refine, train, develop, and grow your team with these values front of mind.
- Be transparent with your team, share your big picture vision with them individually, and how they fit in.
- Put people first – before products, processes, and productivity. If you put people first and empower your team to do the same, everything else will fall in line organically.
- Be prepared to be uncomfortable.
Your mission, vision, and values statements (MVV) are the beginning of building character in your organization, but really – it starts with YOU. Who are you? What are you about? What do you care about? Ultimately, your strengths, passions, and personal goals will help define the MVV of your organization.
Maintaining through change
In the same way that people grow and become refined over time, your organization will change. You’ll find out what you’re really good at. You’ll test the market and see where you shine. You’ll see needs and develop solutions that could end up defining your business. You’ll discover the types of organizations or customers that you really love serving or partnering with. And we can’t forget that outside forces will affect the trajectory of your organization in sometimes unpredictable and very heartbreaking ways.
For example, our company didn’t build websites or perform digital marketing services as a core capability until the Great Recession in 2008, when all of our clients cancelled their paid traditional media spends. We decided to put our skills to use in the area of digital, which was in its infancy at the time. Now, this is the core of our company and has led to exciting developments in new products and marketing technology.
As life and business happen and your organization matures, revisit your MVV statement along the way and keep it within view. It’s a map that is written as you partner with each unique client, as you countersign each scope of work, as you raise up managers within your business, as you take a chance and hire someone with no real experience, but has a special spark that you recognize.
Attracting birds of a feather
To attract people to your brand and build loyalty in your organization, you must focus on the unique character and intrinsic values of your organization with the goal of reflecting that authentically in your marketing and communications messaging: Live it out! When you do that right and commit to honesty and a healthy level of transparency, “reputation management” becomes a much easier job. So does recruitment and retention, even in a tough market.
Through the Covid-19 pandemic and the “Great Resignation,” our company not only maintained our team of seasoned professionals, we grew by almost 40 percent. But without defined values, you basically venture out into the wild with no guide and no guardrails.
One of the incredible benefits of running your organization with Roundtable Leadership is attracting employees who align with your values. This gains momentum. You may find that your team self-checks and holds each other accountable in areas of integrity and leadership. This reflects the business decisions you make, the products you develop and market, and the way you treat employees and customers alike. And, when you end up with a team member that does not align with these values, they tend to stand out like a bad seed. It may begin to feel like your organization is self-editing.
Another way your organization will self-edit as you live out your values is in the clients that you work with. When a client does not align with your values, they tend to adversely affect the culture of your organization. Target client partnerships that mirror your values. Not doing this can put you in the dangerous position of walking a line of compromise that can damage both your character and your reputation, as well as the people you work with.
Identifying the unique core values of your organization and reflecting them authentically in your external marketing and communications strategies will attract people to your brand. Living out your unique core values each day at work and reflecting them in your internal recruitment strategies will attract people to your organization and help retain top talent. This internal and external proving of your values will build loyalty to your organization, both inside and out.
Walk the walk of Roundtable Leadership every day
We are people and we are ever-changing. So is the world around us. The target continues to move, so we must be nimble and move with it. Preferably a little bit ahead of it! As a business leader, make sure you have your mission, vision and values acknowledged, aligned, and active within your organization. Drill it into the core of who you are and live it out each day.
This will make all the difference between being an organization built on a reputation that can be blown like sand, to one that is built on the solid foundation of true, authentic, strong character.
Published with permission and adapted from the upcoming book Roundtable Leadership: Revolutionize Your Company Culture by Stephanie Chadwick