Last week, the Air Force Academy superintendent took a powerful stance for leadership, for values, and was an example of what good leaders do. Lt. Gen. Jay Silveria told the recruits that if they could not treat someone with dignity and respect they should “get out” and leave now. There was no equivocation, no “maybe in certain circumstances,” no “both sides” comments, just a blunt enforcement of the Air Force’s values. Full stop. It was a forceful speech that left no room for misunderstanding. The Air Force Academy does not stand for discrimination and bullying of any kind, period.
What would happen if all of our leaders were as forceful about upholding values? This is what good leaders do and why people follow them. He was crystal clear about what they could do if they disagreed – get out. This was not the place for them. The organization training our military forces to stand up and lead others, to protect and preserve values, would absolutely not tolerate bigotry of any kind.
When I see this overwhelming display of great leadership I feel proud. People are willing to follow this leader because they know exactly where he stands and what he stands for. Can your people say that about your leaders? Can it be said about you?
In my talk on “Intentional Culture,” I emphasize that all cultures are rooted in values and as leaders, we need to understand what those are and stand up for them every moment of every day. Not when it’s convenient or when’s it’s popular, but always. People watch what leaders do, what they say, how they say it, and literally every action taken by them every day – social media posts included. It’s important that all of our outward behavior is a match for our values and those of our organizations. If not, we are saying the stated values don’t matter, what matters is something else.
The most difficult time in a leader’s life can seem to be when values are violated. In reality, it’s the easiest. The answer is always a resounding “no” to a violation of values. If it’s anything else, the value has been tossed aside for something else. Values are not to be treated lightly. They are the lighthouses of our behavior, making sure we don’t crash on the rocks. Own your values, own your organization’s values and live them every day. If you can’t, you should be somewhere else and “get out” as Lt. Gen Silveria said.
No one can take away your values, only you can give them away. At the end of the day, those leaders who stand up when the rest can’t or won’t are the ones we want to follow. Those leaders who give us the strength to stand up for ourselves and be a part of something bigger are the best leaders. It starts with values – know what yours are and what you stand for – then live them every day.