To leave or stay? When core values conflict with your leader

As we grow as leaders, we become more aware of our values. Often this is a process of discovery as we learn how to separate our own beliefs from unhealthy principles we may have been taught in the past. When we begin to outwork our newly unearthed values, we can experience resistance from the organisations we work within. This can be the teething problems of growing together as a company, but sometimes it can come from the people we are directly responsible to. So what should you do when your own values and those of your leader are in conflict?

Determine the source of the conflict

“…it is no great feat to write down a list of values. It’s far harder to live by them, especially when they are not self-evidently aligned.” – John Pepper, What Really Matters

It could be that your leader shares your values but is struggling to outwork them. Leaders are required to perform two things simultaneously: create a compelling future vision and handle the daily tasks of management. Sometimes the daily tasks overwhelm and we default to behaviour that contrasts with our core values. It is worth having a conversation with your leader to determine what their values actually are, because they may be closer to yours than you think. Or if there is a difference, there may be room for open discussion – to see how you can move forward together.

Determine how much it affects your ability to lead

“Leadership is an action, not a position.” – Donald McGannon

It is easy to confuse leadership with authority but they are not the same thing. Influence is far more impactful than authority and just because you are not at the top of a hierarchy does not mean you are less significant than those above you. You might still be working out your values in the majority of day-to-day decisions, even when authority figures are making larger decisions you disagree with. You also might be able to influence those authorities over time.

In our eagerness to bring change we can get the pacing wrong. If your values genuinely work in practice, those in authority may come to learn from your example in time. When you are influencing those in high position, without high position yourself, you are truly a leader to be reckoned with.

Determine why you are staying

“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.” – C.G. Jung

Although we can stay in an organisation for apparently noble reasons, it is possible for the underlying reasons to be less healthy. Familiarity is comfortable and, beyond that, our need for belonging can cause us to compromise deep parts of our personal identity. An organisation may be powerful or successful but that is not enough if you need to kill off parts of yourself to survive in it. Similarly our desire for approval from authority figures can give us an unbalanced loyalty to them, turning us into people who cannot say no. The way out of this self-induced prison could be to leave, get therapy, or both.

Determine what fulfils you

“A great leader’s courage to fulfil his vision comes from passion, not position.” – John C. Maxwell

When your values align with those of your organisation, the opportunity to get a sense of meaning from your work is greatly increased. The industry may be attractive, your role important, but if you are essentially working towards a goal you do not believe in, your sense of worth can plummet. Figuring out what matters to you takes time, it takes introspection and it sometimes it takes help. But it is far better to submit yourself to this discomfort for a while than to stay as a pale reflection of the leader you are meant to be.

Want more insight on how to move forward? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.