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Leadership Practice and Culture Misalignment

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

culture and values through leadership; man sitting on a red chair in a row of colorful chairs

Take a moment and think about your company or organization’s core values and culture. Does a list like this immediately come to mind?

  • Integrity

  • Boldness

  • Honesty

  • Trust

  • Accountability

  • Commitment to Customers

  • Passion

  • Fun

  • Humility

  • Continuous Learning

There are a few possible answers to this question:

  1. This is a great list, but I don’t know what our company’s core values are

  2. Yes, our company has similar values listed in our documents, but I don’t really see this at work on a regular basis

  3. Our company does have a defined list of core values and I see them used in decision making frequently

two railroad tracks not connected together

If your answer aligns with #3 above, you don’t have to read any further unless you really geek out over leadership content!

If your answer aligns with #1 or #2, you are not alone.

We know that leaning into a sense of shared values often brings purpose and fulfillment in the workplace.

The challenge for leaders is that while we often find purpose in organizational core values, it doesn’t always translate to the teams we lead. In fact, this is what most people would say. A McKinsey & Company survey found that 70% of executives said their sense of purpose was largely defined by work. However, that number drops significantly to 15% when non-executive participants were asked if they are living their purpose at work.

Purpose and values are tightly intertwined - and need to be to have that sense of fulfillment! We run into challenges as individuals and as organizations when we experience the conflict between the values we hold and the way we spend our time and energy and make decisions.

In my work as an executive leadership coach, I often listen to clients express an inner conflict between who they are and what they value vs. how they feel they are required to show up everyday. The same is true for leaders who feel like the culture or non-written mission of the organization prevents them from leading in a way that is genuinely meaningful.

For these reasons, mission statements, value statements, and the list of core values in many organizations aren’t worth the webpage they are posted to or the paper they are printed on. The words don’t mean anything if they just point out, at worst, our hypocrisy, or at best, our ignorance because frankly, we just don’t live out the words. And if you work in an organization that is suffering from this misalignment or if you are a leader who hasn’t connected decision making with the directional statements of your organization, don't worry...there is hope.

Here are some questions to consider:

  1. Are the core values identified?

  2. Are the core values shared by all stakeholders?

  3. Are core values used as a filter for decision making, performance, and behavioral expectations?

If the answer to any of these questions is “no,” there is work to be done. And it isn’t easy work, but it is truly rewarding work. This is the work that changes the culture of an organization and breathes new life into leaders.

So where do you begin?

If your core values, the values of your team, or company/organization aren’t identified, you need to create a space to truly listen. What do you personally value? Who are the decision makers and what do they value about the work? Who are the people doing the work and what do they value? What is most important to them about what they do and how they need to do the work? Creating a culture of listening is the first step in identifying core values. Use a feedback loop to tell people what you heard them say, or what you think you heard them say, and then move collaboratively forward to construct your core values.

Building values together is actually an easier way for them to become shared values then it is to have core values in place and then have to figure out how to create commitment to values that people haven’t seen historically lived out. However, if the value structure is there and it is worth preserving, do so. But do so, knowing you are entering into the challenge of identifying your own hypocrisy and then making amends as you move forward. Statements such as, “In the past, I may not have always made decisions that supported a true sense of teamwork. In the future, I am going to try to do a better job of that. I invite you to come and speak with me privately if you see me leading in a way that is divisive or seems to alienate a group of people within our organization.” Those are tough words to swallow, but these are the genuine leadership messages people are thirsty to hear.

Once you identify places for change in yourself, it is critical that you help the other leaders in your organization to do the same; at every level, in every department. This takes time and it sometimes feels like two steps forward one step backwards, but this is the path to eliminating our inner conflict between values and organizational culture that keep us feeling unfilled.

Lastly, put structures in place that cause your values to be front and center all the time. Create a values based decision framework, conduct after action reviews and ask about how the values were lived out, and honor and praise those in your organization who model the values, especially when the circumstances made it hard to do so. In other words, live it every day and at every level.

There is freedom in the alignment of values and action!


Emmy Beeson, The Change Coach, has dedicated her life to educating and serving others, knowing that by growing within, we can grow others in more significant ways. Emmy knows that by asking key questions, one can open up and discover a whole new way of approaching the world. If you're ready to look within, schedule a free strategy session with Emmy today.


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