Values-Driven Leadership in the Community

For all those familiar with The Leadership Challenge, we know that the most important starting point for values-driven leadership (or any leadership, for that matter) is to have an awareness of self: the values that guide us as individuals which, ultimately, impact our organizations, our communities, our world.  And it is that focus and learning that participants in a recent workshop, sponsored by the Hamilton County Leadership Academy (HCLA), experienced in a unique way.

HCLA is a community leadership development program dedicated to helping those in leadership positions continue to develop their capabilities as leaders. Representing a variety of organizations from Hamilton County in Indiana, participants come to the program from various backgrounds—all seeking education and information about the Hamilton County community as well as opportunities to build on their leadership skills.

As part of HCLA’s commitment to providing ways for both current participants and alumnae to stay connected and continue their development as leaders, one of the organization’s key offerings is a continuing education workshop held each spring for alumnae. Here, leaders return to the HCLA community to share their experiences, and spend a morning focusing on ways to more fully develop their leadership skills, both personally and professionally.

While this Values-Driven Leadership Workshop, in many settings, may have focused only on organizational values, HCLA has always recognized the importance of individual leaders exploring their own personal values.  That’s why this innovative session focuses first on personal values, and then turns to a panel of recognized local leaders to demonstrate the interplay between a leader’s personal values and organizational values.

For example, during the most recent workshop held earlier this year, leaders spent the first several hours exploring personal values with an exercise adapted from the Values Card Sort provided in The Leadership Challenge Values Cards Facilitator Guide. Leaders identified the personal values that mattered most to them and created definitions for each that would help guide them in their daily leadership. This exploration was both illuminating and reflective. And when participants shared their values with each other, the room was abuzz! 

To our surprise, this first exercise went more quickly than we had planned—perhaps because these leaders were so committed to the community they were already very in tune to the values that truly mattered to them and were quick to narrow down their values. With extra time on our hands before the panel leaders arrived, we didn’t want to ignore the opportunity for more learning. So we added an extra bonus for this group’s participants and engaged leaders in developing a personal leadership philosophy. 

As many of us within the TLC community understand, having a leadership philosophy—one that arises from our values—often has more impact than we ever expect. This was the case with attendee Chris Owens, Director of Indiana Parks and Recreation Association, who was surprised that this simple process of exploring personal values and using those to create his leadership philosophy made such an impact. In fact, he was so excited that he posted about his leadership philosophy on Facebook, writing:

“I wrote a leadership philosophy statement yesterday as part of the workshop I attended. Still needs some polishing, but happy with draft #1. I’m being highly challenged to follow that in several facets today.”

Workshop participants also shared their leadership philosophies with others in the group before being treated to a panel discussion that included executives from Hamilton and nearby Marion counties who told stories and provided insight into the personal values that drive their behavior and actions as leaders, as well as how their organizations use values to positively impact results.

Mike Strohl, VP of Client Service and Customer Relations at Citizens Energy Group in Indianapolis, for example, gave an excellent example of how employees, in the midst of a potentially serious crisis in the middle of the worst winter the Midwest had ever seen, brought the company’s organizational values to life: 

During the extreme cold of the Polar Vortex in January, on the coldest night of the year when the wind chill was -30 degrees, a valve broke on one of the liquefied natural gas tanks that provide gas into our system which, of course, is used to heat homes.  And as employees from various divisions gather together to come up with a solution, the values of quality and teamwork were very evident. Each member of the team that night came in during off hours, bringing specific skills to collaborate on a solution that, ultimately, ended with three people climbing to the top of the 80 foot tank in the coldest hour of the coldest day to implement a fix.  It was all hands on deck and, in fact, a temporary worker was brought into the conversation because he had an idea for fixing the broken valve based on an observation earlier in the day.  This truly demonstrated the value of teamwork and illustrates the great lengths our employees went to in order to ensure customers had gas to heat their homes.

Traci Dossett, Chief Operating Officer at SEP, a software engineering firm, also discussed the direct connection she has been able to make between her personal values and the organization’s—a value of service that has been apparent from the moment SEP was founded.

“When we developed our mission and vision statements at SEP, we committed to making the world a better place.  I know it sounds hokey, but we really took it to heart.  This means making our clients better, making each other better, making life better for our families, making the technical field better and, finally, making our community better.  We live these values out every day through our client training sessions, mentoring, wellness initiatives, technical community involvement and events, and our community involvement plan. 

A concrete example is our Pay It Forward Month. We provide a small stipend for each employee and ask them to help others in the community in some small, but meaningful way. Involvement in our community has become ingrained in who we are.  I see our people taking it to heart and going above and beyond.”

Leaders left the session energized about their personal leadership, and eager to help others explore their own personal values and help them make the link to their organizational values. Lisa Wissman of Community Health put it this way:

“The workshop was valuable for me in multiple ways. I have applied what I learned, shared examples from the panel and networked with two new individuals who are assisting me with helping a young engineer build a professional network for his job search. I truly hit the jackpot!  Thank you for creating the opportunity.”

This most recent Values-Driven Leadership Workshop again confirmed the importance of the contribution that HCLA makes to the community by helping leaders further their development. Hearing stories from panel members, having the space and time to reflect on their own values, and getting an unexpected opportunity to reflect on their leadership philosophies, HCLA participants and alumnae are in an even better position to make a positive impact on the communities in which they live and work. 

This article first appeared in The Leadership Challenge Newsletter at It was co-authored by Jill Doyle, Executive Director of the Hamilton County Leadership Academy.  Jill has spent her entire career in the leadership development and non-profit management field.  Her passion for lifelong learning and community engagement led her to HCLA four years ago.