Misaligned values can lead to serious cracks in leadership

– in the same way poor subsoil underneath a road can lead to cracks in the surface. We all have values which are more aspirational than operational in our lives. These misaligned values are problematic for leaders who seek to project their personal values as examples for those who follow their leadership.

Poor Foundations © | Dreamstime.com

Poor Foundations
© | Dreamstime.com

Leaders need to learn how to identify and deal with misaligned values if they want to improve their leadership effectiveness.The first school building we built required a lot of earth works. The mud which had been dumped on the site earlier wasn’t a good enough foundation for the building. The earthworks company dug all the soft moist mud out and replaced it with layer upon layer of decomposed granite. Each layer was rolled, watered and rolled multiple times. Once they had completed the job the engineers took a series of core samples to test its compaction and moisture levels. They failed to reach the required standards. So, the company repeated the whole process of digging out the fill and then replacing it layer by layer until it was compacted enough to meet the engineering specifications.

That is how important it is to get the right foundations in place. If the foundations are not right the whole building will settle and crack. The weaknesses will be exposed. Our values are the foundations of our character. They are what supports all of the leadership work we do. We must put time and effort into our values making sure our behaviours and decisions are in alignment with them. To develop the abilities to spot any misalignment and work to bring realignment. Our leadership effectiveness depends on it!

In the last post, “Aspirational Values: If you Can’t see then you Can’t Shoot Them” we identified that many values we want others to identify as guiding our lives are actually aspirational in nature. They are aspirational because, while we aspire to live by them, at times our behaviour and decisions do not completely line up with them. This misalignment creates serious problems for leaders. Misaligned values in leaders can cause mistrust, confusion, and lead to diminished commitment in team members.

Learning the power of being honest with yourself is the first step for leaders in dealing with misaligned values. Developing the practice of self reflection during which you take a hard look at whether your speech, behaviour and decisions have been in congruence with your stated values is a significant step towards leadership maturity. Another is asking trusted friends to give you feedback when there is evidence of misaligned values in you.

Being able to spot misaligned values is more than half way to being able to work to align your behaviour, actions and speech with your values. Once you have identified any misaligned values you can take action to change.

Integrity is one of my personal values (as I am sure it is one of yours). I want to be a leader whose behaviour lines up with his words. A leader who does what he says he will do at all times. Integrity is when your actions match your words. When the way you behave reflects how you expect others to behave. Integrity, along with a few other values, is on my personal aspirational watch list. It may surprise you, but integrity is, for me, a value I have to watch closely to make sure it is more than aspirational. It can, at times, be a misaligned value for me.

I would like to be able to tell you that I identified I had a potential problem with how others might see my integrity myself. That in my honest, open evaluation of my behaviours, speech and decisions I spotted the issues. I didn’t. It was my wife who quietly pointed out to me that I would sometimes make commitments to people and not follow through on them. We looked at this issue together. With the benefit of hindsight I can see I was defensive at first. I could see that, in each case, I meant what I said when I said it. I could defend my integrity in terms of my intentions. However, good intentions turn into disappointments and breaches of trust when they are not followed through.

I asked another friend to observe and help me think this through. We could both identify I have a tendency to be completely engrossed in the situation at hand.

Aspirational Values © | Dreamstime.com

Aspirational Values
© | Dreamstime.com

So engrossed sometimes I lose sight of all of my other commitments. So, when I was telling someone I would do something for them I really meant it. Minutes later my head would be engaged in whatever the next issue was and I might forget the commitment I had made earlier. We also found that, at times, out of my motivation to want to be liked by people, I would commit to things which were not realistic for me given all of my responsibilities. I knew I had to do something to address misaligned values and this was no exception.

With the help of my wife and my friend I develop some strategies to address the issues we had identified. Now I make notes of any commitment I make. I tell my wife about some of them at the end of every day.

In my position I have found that even something as simple as telling someone I would like to have a cup of coffee with them, or have them over for a meal, sets up an expectation. If I don’t follow through it creates disappointment and a sense of a breach of integrity can get a foothold.

I have also identified that remembering things I commit to, even though I write them down, is a problem for me. I get so focussed on whatever I am doing that things don’t always make it from short term to long term memory for me. Part of my solution is that I ask people to remind me of things. Whenever I commit to doing something I let people know there is a chance I may forget and ask them to remind me. It is not a perfect solution and I don’t want to give myself any excuse to be able to forget. I need to keep working on improving my strategies to help me remember.

I know it is no surprise to you that none of us is perfect (well, I hope it is no surprise to you because if it is you have bigger issues to deal with!). The misaligned values you will identify in your own life may be completely different to mine. It is the self examination, personal honesty and transparency with others which open the way forward to identifying and dealing with misaligned values.



  • Misaligned values in leaders can cause mistrust, confusion, and lead to diminished commitment in team members.
  • Learning the power of being honest with yourself is the first step for leaders.
  • Integrity is when your actions match your words.
  • When the way you behave reflects how you expect others to behave.

Additional Resources

What are Values?
Personal Growth: How to align your Values and Your life
Make Your Values Mean Something
Organisational Values: A dynamic Perspective