Do America’s Leaders Have Any Agreed-Upon Values?

 (This is the fifth installment in my twelve-part blog series A Leadership Vision for America)

Our leaders in Washington first need a compelling vision if they are going to move this country in a positive direction.  In recent posts I’ve covered two elements of a compelling vision: A significant purpose—what business we are in as a country; and a picture of the future—where we are headed.

The last component of a compelling vision is having a clear set of operating values. What will guide our behavior as we move forward?  This is critical.

I’m amazed that of all the organizations I’ve worked with or visited around the world, fewer than ten percent have had a clear set of operating values. Without values, it is a free-for-all. Even those organizations that have a set of values often have too many values. It’s hard to remember eight, ten, or twelve values—much less have them guide your behavior. They may be framed beautifully and look nice on the wall, but they have little meaning to anyone. So what you want is a few values—three or four—that people can focus on and live by.

Also, organizations should rank order their values. Why is that important?  Because sometimes values conflict with each other.  If values are not rank ordered, people can choose any value they like and justify their behavior.

Southwest Airlines has four values. Their number one value is safety, which is understandable given their business. They then have three values they choose not to put into rank order because they want people to engage in them all every single day:  a Warrior Spirit, a Servant’s Heart, and a Fun-LUVing Attitude. A Warrior Spirit means that if you have a job, do it. Give it your all. A Servant’s Heart means that their people are there to serve, not to be served. And the Fun-LUVing Attitude of Southwest employees is legendary—it’s one of the things that sets them apart from the competition and contributes to their success in the airline industry.

What are the operating values that guide the behavior of our leaders in Washington? I don’t know of any agreed-upon values. Even if our politicians individually have good intentions and good values, without big-picture values for our government, it becomes a free-for-all.  To me, the values that run our country now are driven by the squeaky wheel—when someone protests, we focus on their values.

I think we are in desperate need of a set of operating values everyone can agree upon that can guide our journey as a country. What do you think? Is this possible in today’s political climate?

4 thoughts on “Do America’s Leaders Have Any Agreed-Upon Values?

  1. I’m not certain values in Washington today are possible with the people currently in office. The division between the parties causes common values to be misconstrued simply because the person who values it comes from the other party.

  2. It is possible, but only with a leader that is not dependent on re-election. Term limits and less “benefits” to all people in office will eventually lead to better government. What we have now is the value of Greedology. Money has infected our govermental institutions and it is killing all of us.

  3. I would agree that money, power, and treatment that places them above others is where the train gets off the rails. Look no further than Hollywood to see what happens when we treat people as if they are better than all others. Whenever we fail to humble ourselves, bad things happen. The fact that they all need to be lawyers is also troubling. Since most people are basic, hard working folks, their laws and rules shouldn’t have to be interpreted by someone who charges way too much and writes and reads legalese. I support the values of love, family, humility and contribution. Those are mine in rank order.

  4. Yes, values must guide leadership. However, I do not want to be a victim to a country that has to whittle it’s value system down to 3 or 4 talking points. When we have to “dumb down” values, then we are in serious trouble.
    You have an excellent platform and provocative, thought-provoking approach. Use your powers for the good! : ) What specific values do you think “people in Washington” should uphold? If you discuss values, then you must address issues of social justice. Can you truly rank social justice?

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