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In 2003, the CEO of IBM, Sam Palmisano, initiated an effort to reinvent the Company’s values. This ultimately led to a decision to focus on the customer, excellence, respect, and innovation. Palmisano believed that the company had become consumed by a “sense of entitlement and arrogance.” This transition to a values-based leadership system enabled “people to respond quickly, flexibly, and creatively to a never-ending stream of strategic challenges.” (Leading Change When Business is Good, by Paul Hemp and Thomas A. Stewart; based on an interview with Samuel J. Palmisano.)

IBM didn’t invent the idea of values-based leadership. A Google search on the term yields over 267,000 results. It means different things to different people, as I have discovered.

In 2011, Harry M. Jansen Kraemer Jr., professor at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, wrote From Values to Action: The Four Principles of Values-Based Leadership. In this book, he discusses four principles: self-reflection, balance, self-confidence, and genuine humility. He stresses that we can all lead according to our own value system. But we have to know what that is.

And your project teams need to understand your values and the values that the team plans to adopt. It helps guide decision making when crunch times come.

In their 2007 book, Courage: The Backbone of Leadership, Gus Lee and Diane Elliott-Lee discuss how companies create their core values (or don’t). His concern is that some companies miss the mark when they don’t select at least one high core value. According to Lee, there are only three high core values – integrity, courage, and character. Medium core values – such as excellence, teamwork, and customer focus – are fine. But they all really depend on high core values. In my experience, these high core values can overlap. So, I’ll try to look at them separately and offer some suggestions on how to build these values in your teams.

Three High Core Values to Consider in a Values-Based Leadership System


According to Wikipedia, “integrity is the practice of being honest and showing a consistent and uncompromising adherence to strong moral and ethical principles and values.” In Sam Harris’s book, Lying, he talks about developing a culture of honesty. He contends that our world would be better if we stuck to honesty. He defines lying as “to intentionally mislead others when they expect honest communication.” (Loc. 66)

Tip: Don’t tolerate lying.

Working with people who are honest is simply easier than working with people we can’t trust. If we want to build cooperative relationships, we cannot tolerate lying. And, falsely encouraging someone about their work deprives them of a relationship with us that is based on trust.

Working with people who are honest is simply easier than working with people we can’t trust. If we want to build cooperative relationships, we cannot tolerate lying. Click To Tweet

There is an overwhelming difficulty in recovering from falsehoods. So, when a company (or an individual) announces something that is dishonest, people will be inclined to continue to believe it, even after it has been proven untrue. This is referred to as the “illusory truth effect. Familiarity breeds credence.”  (Loc. 418)


To build courage, we have to practice courageous behavior. That begins with role-playing problematic scenarios. The Lees offer two suggestions.

Tip: Try the Action-e-Reaction technique when you are in a healthy relationship.

Action-e-Reaction (e stands for emotional) is a technique for developing courageous communications. Using this technique, participants learn how to express their emotional reaction to someone else’s behavior without passing judgment. Action-e-Reaction works in healthy relationships. The two basic steps are to state whatever behavior or action has caused a strong feeling. Then name that feeling. For example: when you did ___, I felt ____.  (p. 91 – 96)

Tip: Try the Black Box tool when the relationship is strained.

The black box tool allows people to diagnose a problem, much like a plane crash diagnostic tool. Look at how well people are respecting others, supporting others, and challenging wrongs. To use the tool, people who are currently in a failed relationship evaluate themselves in these three categories to identify the areas that need improvement and fix the relationship. (p.152 – 160)


Character seems very connected to integrity, but it actually refers to an individual’s moral qualities. People can exhibit strong moral character, dishonest character, or a host of other character qualities.

Many of us have read about the Milgram experiments. According to Wikipedia:

The Milgram experiment on obedience to authority figures was a series of social psychology experiments conducted by Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram. They measured the willingness of study participants, men from a diverse range of occupations with varying levels of education, to obey an authority figure who instructed them to perform acts conflicting with their personal conscience. Participants were led to believe that they were assisting an unrelated experiment, in which they had to administer electric shocks to a “learner.” These fake electric shocks gradually increased to levels that would have been fatal had they been real.

The experiment found, unexpectedly, that a very high proportion of men would fully obey the instructions, albeit reluctantly. Milgram first described his research in a 1963 article in the Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology and later discussed his findings in greater depth in his 1974 book, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View.

I recently read a blog post by an elite sales professional bragging about his rather dishonest techniques, and I wondered why the guy had so many followers. And then, I turned on the news and realized, once again, that character is sorely lacking in our world. When are we going to recognize that if people can’t depend on us to perform, or trust what we say, that teamwork fails miserably?

Tip: Try encouraging daily acts of kindness.

There are many ways to develop teams that show a strength of character. Chris Hadfield served as commander of the International Space Station for five months. He attributes the success of their mission to one rule that he enforced with his team. Every day, each person on the team had to perform at least one kind act for someone else on the team. Hadfield reports that he spent an enormous amount of time making sure that everyone on the team knew each other well.

Researchers at Gallup found that “manager behaviors explain 70 percent of the variance in employees’ daily work engagement, and academics from Stanford University and the University of Utah have discovered that nine-person teams led by engaging bosses are as productive as ten-person teams led by average or poor bosses.” (The Best Team Wins – The New Science of High Performance, by Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton; Loc. 224-227)

Hope you enjoyed these four tips that are easy to implement. If so, sign up for my newsletter.