Seven Principles of Values-Based Leadership
April 9, 2021
Victor Garcia is president & CEO at Food Bank of Northwest Indiana, which provides food assistance to the over 660,000 residents in Lake and Porter counties in Indiana. He was the featured guest during a Lunch and Lead virtual session, hosted by the Leadership Institute at Purdue Northwest. Victor told personal stories of his leadership journey and shared seven principles he believes are key to values-based leadership:
Be respectful of other people and more importantly, be respectful of their time. One of the ways that I implement this is by acknowledging and affirming dignity for others at all levels of the organization. Leaders can sometimes look at a title or a pay range and may treat individuals differently than they would others in the organization. It is important to respect everyone and treat them the way you want to be treated. It’s easy to say that, but it can be a little more difficult to spend time with those individuals doing the hourly work or we wouldn’t classify as being in high level positions. All of those employees are just as critical to your operations as everybody in the C-suite is.
Here at the Food Bank, we get audited by the USDA, Feeding America, and others. Part of that audit is our cleanliness. The effort that our custodial team puts together is just as critical to our success as our development team, or our program team, or our leadership team. When you look at some of those positions, make sure you are respecting and talking to everyone and getting down to who they are.
To inspire vision in your organization, you need to instill passion in your team. If you’re not passionate about your work, your team is going to see that and feel it. You have to instill that passion with every interaction that you have with the team you are leading and with your external partners.
One way to do that is to really explain the ‘why’ behind the task that is being delegated or why we’re going in the direction that we’re going. It is really easy to get focused on the who, what, when and where, but if your team doesn’t understand why we’re going in the direction we’re going, there is going to be a bigger challenge for that buy-in.
People really want to know what their particular role is in the work that you’re doing and how that contributes to the larger picture of the organization. What is it the team is trying to accomplish? To really inspire that vision and model the way for your team is not just talking the talk, but walking the walk. These are old clichés that we’ve all heard, but it is really easy to forget to do those things.
One thing I make that I focus on is being sure not to ask somebody to do something that I’m not willing to do myself. That doesn’t mean that it has to be my job, but is it a task I’m willing to do as well. Otherwise, I need to look back at “Should we be doing this task? Is this the right thing? Is that the right person to be doing that task?” It gives you an opportunity to really look at it from all levels.
Ethics > Profits
I can’t stress enough that you should choose ethics over profits. Many leaders forget that piece and look at either a bonus structure or they look at the financial health of the organization, or much worse, their own personal financial health. And that puts themselves and their organization in a very challenging position.
You really have to define what that line is in your own personal and your organization’s integrity. There is one thing that you cannot risk in our community and that is your own and your company’s brands. Your personal brand and your company’s brand is where your integrity lies and where you draw a line in the sand.
The world is not black and white. It is gray, but at some point you have to decide, “Where is the line going to be drawn that I’m not willing to go past?” And not just you as an individual, but your organization as well.
I really do believe that your personal brand is what will get you into that next level and is going to build that relationship with your team as well. When you’re saying who you are and you follow through with those things, it really helps in the development of your staff and getting people to buy into your vision.
I personally meet with every single one of my teammates when we bring in a new staff person and with the team reporting to me. Within the first two weeks of new staff joining the food bank, I also schedule a one-on-one with those staff members. The purpose of that one-on-one is not to go over organizational policies and procedures. It is a 30 to 60-minute conversation just to get to know each other.
I truly believe that my role as a leader is to develop other good leaders in my organization and in my community. And I can’t do that if I don’t know what skillsets they need for their toolbox, how I can help them, what their career goals are. If their personal goals aren’t going to be met at the food back, I am absolutely okay with my team moving on to do something else in their career. It is part of my job to help them through that process.
So I meet with everyone to get to know them personally, but more importantly, to learn what it is that they want to do three, five, seven, ten years from now, and how I can help them get there? Hopefully that’s within our organization, but if it’s not, that’s okay too.
Empowering others also means you have to allow for the risk of some failure and mistakes, because that helps in development. I really want to empower my team to get the job done and feel that they can do it and make decisions on their own. They also have to know that it’s going to be okay for them to make a mistake or an incorrect decision, because we can learn from that. It also might create new opportunities that we didn’t anticipate or weren’t looking for.
I often tell people, making a mistake isn’t a bad thing. Making mistakes is just fine. We just have to learn from it and grow from it, and that’s the key. Also, when we make a mistake, we have to own it and apologize. We just have to say, “Hey, I’m sorry.” Own it and fix it.
Everyone wants to feel appreciated, and that is through tangible appreciation. They might not tell you that, but during my one-on-one sessions, I often ask how my staff likes to be recognized. I can’t assume how people want to be recognized. Some people don’t like big recognition pieces in the newspaper or in front of their teammates. Some people just want that quiet thank you, like the simple act of buying them a donut once in a while. That’s okay, but you can’t assume that you know that about your team. Really get to know the people you are working with and how they like to be appreciated.
It is really just putting your people first. As we’ve been dealing with COVID-19 and our response, that has been at the forefront of our decision making process. How is our shift in program delivery, how is our shift in our operations, not only going to impact the partners that we have externally and our end user, but how is it going to impact our team? We’re building a culture of care, and that only happens if leadership is showing that example of care.
We would not have been able to do the work that we did in 2020, if we were not nimble and able to pivot in our efforts. It has been a wild ride for everybody, but I can tell you from a food bank perspective, it was the most challenging and rewarding year of my career.
One unique thing about the food bank is our work is really rooted in what amounts to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Food, safety and shelter are critical. You can’t focus on anything else until those three things are met. The challenge we see is that we’re likely going to get to a more comfortable place with the pandemic by the end of summer, but we’re not going to experience that at the food bank because our crisis is the economic impact COVID has had in our region.
It’s going to take years for many families to replace the income they lost, so we’re going to continue to experience this increase in demand for charitable food in our community for probably two to five years. We’re going to be in pandemic mode for our services for quite some time, and that means we still need to balance our focus and flexibilities. No matter what organization you are in, you really want to focus on market trends and be proactive on what you think is going to happen. How will you respond to that before it gets to a point that you are forced to respond?
Serve with Humility
I really try to serve with humility. Servant leadership and values-based leadership are often intermingled, but I believe they are a bit different. In my opinion, the element of humility may be the most critical.
Be able to recognize your own areas for improvement. We are all human; every single one of us, none of us are perfect. So identify what those things are that you need to be better in. What can you improve on? And the only way to do that is to be a lifelong learner. Try to improve your knowledge in something every day.
Learning is also great for building relationships, because the more you learn about something new to you, you’ll be able to find a commonality as you’re interacting with other individuals in our community, whether that’s staff that report to you, or just people that you meet at the family barbecue.
Another key of serving with humility is to own the mistakes, whether they’re your mistakes or not. When something goes wrong, own that piece. But when something goes right, give the credit to that success to your team. Don’t take that credit. It’s easy to say, “Oh, I did this,” but you really didn’t, your team did this and you have to give them credit for those things, and your team will respond to that. You can highlight others’ mistakes and hold people accountable during your one-on-one and team meetings, but you don’t need to do that in a public setting. In public, you drop the balls and your team hits the home runs.
My call to everyone is to learn from other leaders. We often look at leadership books and the academic side of this, but there are leaders in your day-to-day life. They don’t have to have some sort of official fancy pants title to be a leader. There are charismatic leaders to learn from in all of our communities. Pay attention to those individuals and learn what you can from how they interact with the people they are leading.
The Leadership Institute at Purdue Northwest is the hub of leadership development in Northwest Indiana. With programs such as Leadership Northwest Indiana (LNI) program, Youth Leadership Academy, and the Explorer Academy, we help leaders identify areas of growth with time to intentionally practice their skills.
Food for Thought: Lunch and Lead #3 with Victor Garcia
In this month’s Lunch and Lead, we explored Servant Leadership and Values-Based Leadership as Victor shares personal stories of his leadership journey and wisdom learned along the way.