Our behavior is governed by principles. Living in harmony with them brings positive consequences; violating them brings negative consequences.
Quote attributed to Stephen Covey
I recently watched Robert McDonald give testimony to the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee regarding the VA’s strategic plan to improve medical service. Bob is now the 8th United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs. But, I know Bob as one of my mentors and former President/CEO of Procter & Gamble.
Bob’s recent televised testimony was remarkable because he answered the Committee’s questions in a principle based manner. Bob didn’t simply explain what the VA leadership was planning to do, he also shared perspective on why he believed it to be the right thing to do.
I am bringing this up because watching Bob behave in a way consistent with his principles reminded me of one of the most transformational leadership challenges of my career courtesy of Bob.
The Back Story
As background, I was running P&G’s Global Marketing Director College at the time. This is a program to teach newly promoted Marketing Directors how to lead organizations and not just brands. Bob was one of our most popular featured speakers. His talk was about principle-based leadership, a field of study he has been a student of since his days at West Point.
After the presentation, Bob and I were chatting and he asked me if I had every taken the time to think through and write down the things I believe in. Bob told me about his experience in completing the exercise. He confided it was cathartic in the sense that he had to really invest quality time for introspection to understand and prioritize the things he believed and how those beliefs could be leveraged as a compass for the choices in his life. Bob then shared the document he wrote entitled What I Believe In.
The challenge Bob gave me was to discover my own beliefs and write a similar document to guide my life choices.
The exercise was as challenging as Bob suggested it might be. But, the benefits of having written down what I believe and then using the principles to help make decisions were truly remarkable. It made me more confident in the choices I made and my ability to defend them. It also made it easier for me to share the reasoning behind my decisions.
Bob also challenged me to share my beliefs with others and hold myself accountable for behaving consistently with them. That was a scary proposition, but I did it. I titled my document 12 Things I Believe and added it to the back of my speakers biography. After sharing the document I found people genuinely interested in both what I believe and the process I went through to create the list. It allowed me to connect with people on a deeper level than ever before.
Bob is pretty busy as the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, so he won’t be able to challenge you to write down and share what you believe. But, I’ll pay Bob’s mentorship forward and issue the challenge.
If you take the time to write your beliefs down, there is no doubt in my mind you will become a better leader. You will also find your direct reports will have greater passion to follow you and management will have more trust in you because they understand the beliefs that drive your decisions. Your colleagues will also help you adhere to the principles you espouse by calling you out when you fail to walk the talk.
My commitment to you is to act as a sounding board and provide help if needed. All you have to do is send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org when you get stuck and I will try to be your guide through the roadblock.