Aligning values to actions through a code of conduct

The first rule in leadership is to lead self before leading others. Whether you are a practice manager or a practice owner, your leadership is a manifestation of your values and your belief systems. Essentially your actions demonstrate to all, who you are as a person and as a leader. The enormity of this fact is that in order to gain strong follower ship, you must earn trust and credibility by adhering to a code of conduct that guides your actions. Keeping your values and actions in alignment is perhaps the single most important leadership competency skill.

When considering a code of conduct, it becomes necessary to reflect on one’s own values, experiences and beliefs. According to Kouzes and Posner (2007), the very first step on the journey to credible leadership is clarifying your values. (p.68) It is your fundamental beliefs that drive your decisions and your actions. Values are a culmination of a lifetime of experiences. Covey (1990), pointed out that the only thing that endures over time is the law of the farm: You prepare the ground, put in the seed, cultivate it, weed it, water it, then gradually you get nurtured growth and development of full maturity. (p.17) As you reflect over the years, you realize that you’ve been working your “farm” for a long time. We each have deeply rooted beliefs that have guided us throughout our lives. However, the connection between what you believe versus actions, has at times been broken. It is for this reason that adhering to a code of conduct is not only useful but also an important leadership competency skill.

Creating a code of conduct requires honest reflection and this is often a difficult and sometimes a painful task. We tend to seethe at the idea of looking into our own souls and yet ironically we are so quick to judge others. As you reflect and consider a code of conduct, it is human nature to avoid past failures. It is important to acknowledge it and reflect on it, it requires inner strength to revisit these events. Although post mortem analysis is important, it is equally important to move on. This moving on process requires forgiveness of self. According to Tolle (1999), real transformation is possible if you can become present enough to dissolve the past. (p.60) I believe Tolle is suggesting that we lay our pasts to rest. With our pasts at rest, our present and future are so much more obtainable. It’s a healing process. Leaders admit their mistakes; they learn from it and move on. A code of conduct is nothing more than broken promises if not substantiated on the very principles that drive our actions. Principles that drive our actions are our core values.

One of my favourite quotes from Joanne Ciulla (2004) is “most scholars and practitioners who write about leadership genuflect at the altar of ethics and speak with hushed reverence about its importance to leadership.” (p.3) Her point is that ethics plays such a huge role in the practice of leadership yet so little is researched or even written on it. I think part of the reason for this is because ethics and morality are such a personal journey for individuals, that it’s easy to say everyone should have it but difficult to pinpoint exactly what it means to everyone. A code of conduct is a guideline of behaviour driven by our values. The question then becomes what do your values look like in action on a daily basis as it pertains to your leadership? For example, if your core values are integrity, respect and humility, the question is what does that look like in action?

Integrity in action is being honest, truthful, and transparent. Respect in action is validating others, showing empathy and understanding towards others. Humility in action is sharing your story, successes and failures (not being afraid of giving of yourself) and being grateful.

Since conduct is behaviour based and a manifestation of our values, it becomes important that we draw from this to determine what kind of behaviour becomes code. As leaders we have a responsibility to act responsibly. It is not how we feel or how we think but rather how we act that demonstrates leadership. In general any code of conduct should be to act in a manner that is congruent with core values.

Codes of conduct in action that support the sample values of integrity, respect and humility:

  • Be honest and transparent – I want to point out that being honest with yourself is a must before you can be honest with others. “Know thyself, then, means separating who you are and who you want to be from what the world thinks you are and wants you to be.” (Bennis, 2003, 48) Honesty with self, then leads to transparency. This code of conduct is a direct action of integrity.
  • Everyone has value and should be treated as such – This falls under the old “do unto others…” rule but I can tell you from experience that is pays off. This is especially important in leadership. This code of conduct is a direct action of respect.
  • Always give credit where credit is due – Champion and rally behind (operative word here is behind) anyone with a great idea or great work. It’s important to let them shine. This code of conduct is direct action of both integrity and respect.
  • Be and act grateful – This is as simple as counting our blessings and demonstrating appreciation.. This code of conduct is a direct action of humility.
  • Listen and validate others – Covey (1990), noted that what happens when we stop to really listen to another person; the whole relationship is completely transformed. (p.45) I have experienced this many times. People want and deserve to be heard. Never be too busy or too unengaged to stop and hear what people want and need to say. This code of conduct is a direct action of respect.

The values and codes used here are just examples, your values and manifestations of those values (your actions) can only be determined by you. However, the benefits to adhering to a code of conduct is that is that leaders gain flexibility, manoeuvrability and forward progress because through their actions they have earned credibility, earned trust and earned follower ship. Some think follower ship is a given due to position but as any leader can tell you, to be successful you need followers engaged and invested. Position does not guarantee this but true leadership does. These components are essential to facilitating change and moving an organization towards long-term sustainable success.

The ultimate goal of any leader is to positively influence others and this done through earning credibility. It creates loyalty and Kouzes and Posner (2007) noted that loyalty is responsible for extraordinary value creation. (p. 39) Loyalty allows for latitude. The centre of gravity for leadership is the leader’s ability to put his or her principles into practice. (Kouzes and Posner, 2007, p. 39) For this reason, a code of conduct is essential. Leaders must be able to facilitate change and without credibility, trust and follower ship; a leader doesn’t stand a chance.

Bennis, W. (2003). On becoming a leader. Cambridge, MA: Basic Books.
Ciulla, J. B. (2004). Ethics, the heart of leadership (2nd ed.). Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers.
Covey, S. R. (1990). Principle-Centered Leadership. New York: Free Press.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2007). The leadership challenge. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Tolle, E. (2004). The Power of Now. Vancouver, B.C., Canada: Namaste Publishing.