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Understanding your Core Values is a fundamental necessity to success in business ownership. But when I initially broach the subject with a business owner, I invariably get one of these two reactions:

  1. "Oh, here we go again, Core Values, …" I understand this reaction. The subject of Core Values in business management has been around forever. MBA programs have been teaching "Step 1. Establish your Core Values" for 40 years. So, the subject has become trite, stale and underappreciated.
  2. Business owner pulls out their business card and shows me a long list of “Core Values” on the back. The problem with this is what I am shown are rarely the business owner’s actual, personal values. Instead, I see a list of aspirational traits that he or she believes their customers desire and want to hear.

To be a great leader, a business owner must be a great parent for their organization. Dr. Thomas Gordon, in his book “Parent Effectiveness Training”, laid out the three things that great parents do that average/below average parents don't do particularly well.

  1. Have a handful of rules – 3 to 5 rules, not 35 rules. This handful of rules set the acceptable behavior for your children at a high level; don’t try to micromanage your children into submission. It just doesn’t work.
  2. Repeat yourself often – Once you establish your handful of rules, never stop repeating these. Psychologists say that the average human must hear something seven times before they truly understand it for the first time
  3. Be consistent – Once you know your handful of rules and you repeat them often, and then you as the leader don’t follow those rules, chaos will erupt! You must “Walk the Talk."

You must be very deliberate and careful in establishing your Core Values, your “handful of rules”, and make certain that these not just aspirational things that you think your customer wants to hear. Aspirational statements will almost certainly condemn your leadership team and employees to a disconnect between stated core values and true, day-to-day experiences. In this environment, your staff cannot "walk the talk" and Core Values become meaningless. If the leadership of the company does not show the behavior of their published Core Values, there is no way those behaviors will ever grow into a Company Culture.

As the leader, your Core Values must be comprised of what is at your core; what you live and breathe every day as your values. You don't make these up – you discover them as they exist within you.

When you know your real, personal Core Values, and you run your company with these as your "handful of rules," you will get the magic of consistent behavior and develop a Company Culture that will drive performance stronger than any strategy you can ever develop. As Peter Drucker tells us, "Culture eats Strategy for breakfast."