How many organizations have you worked for that have displayed their core values on the office wall and yet act as if they never existed? In my line of work, I’ve seen many. So I was refreshingly caught off guard recently when I was asked to keynote a leadership conference in New Orleans for the law firm of Maynard Cooper & Gale out of Alabama. They invited me to join their team of 200+ for dinner the evening before my talk to listen in on a presentation of their founding principles delivered by one of the senior partners. Their hope was that I would get a “glimpse” of their DNA – “what they’re all about.” Have you ever done something, gone somewhere, experienced someplace that ended up being 10 Xs better than your best expectations? Attending the evening dinner and hearing the founding principles of Maynard Cooper & Gale was one of those events. They esteemed and honored these time-cherished values, recognizing the many blessings derived along their 26-year existence. Their thriving practice was testament to their belief in the power and safety of their values. It was clear – with them they thrived – without them – failure loomed.
You may be thinking, “Geez Tom, it was only a meal and a 40 minute talk!” In this values-starved world it was a feast! Most people and organizations still don’t get it. Your core values – what you deeply believe – are the windows by which we view the world around us and form our decisions. If the lens is faulty, we live inconsistent lives. We end up failing to reach our ultimate potential. We fail to impact people for good who have been placed in our path. We fail to be a living example of honorable distinction. And, in the end, we end up running companies like Enron. Maynard Cooper’s adherence to their founding principles was not a practice of redundancy but rather a clear awareness to the truth that without strict loyalty to their core values they risked walking into the future forgetting – “what they’re all about.”