When Leadership Values Don't Match Company Values, It Can Be a Disaster

Guest Contributorby Lizz Pellet | Posted | Culture

When Leadership Values Don\'t Match Company Values, It Can Be a Disaster

True to the core of running a successful business, it's a given that leaders' actions and behaviors have a significant impact on organizational culture.

So what happens when a leader's personal values are not in line with the company's values or established culture?

It can end up being a public relations nightmare.

This is because, in our world of instant everything, news travels fast and bad news travels faster. You needn't look beyond recent headlines for the proof.

In the past few months, headlines have been fueled with news about how the personal views of top leadership at some companies have landed them on the unfavourable side of employees, board members and customers.

Leadership values out of cultural sync: Mozilla and Brendan Eich

Picture this. Brendan Eich, Mozilla's well-respected Chief Technology Officer and creator of JavaScript, lands in the CEO chair at Mozilla.

But that's not the really big news.

Once it was announced that Eich was taking the helm, the furor created by his public denouncement of marriage equality was swift.

Eich's support of California's Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state, was well known. And public records show that he donated $1,000 to the campaign - an action he has been defending himself against since 2012.

Here's where the controversy comes in...

Appointing Eich as CEO of a company that prides itself on being inclusive to all and also invites diversity to fuel organizational success, frankly, comes as a bit of a head scratcher.

We all have our personal views on just about everything, but to what end, do we have to keep those views in check, under wraps or even hidden from our professional lives?

The answer to this question is a slippery slope to navigate, especially the higher your position within an organization.

Just ask Mr. Eich. After two weeks on the job, he resigned.

The crux of the issue here is not how one feels about gay marriage - plenty of CEOs have weighed in on their views about the topic.

Amazon's CEO Jeff Bezos has donated more than $2.5 million in support of marriage equality, but have his views had the impact that Eich's did? Not at all.

Mr. Bezos' views are very much in line with Amazon's organizational culture - one on which he has had great influence as a leader. The public did not shun Amazon for its inclusive stand on this issue because the company is well known for inclusion and its position on diversity.

When it comes down to it, Mr. Eich's views were out of cultural sync with Mozilla. Mozilla's mission is completely counter to his Eich's personal views. The company's mission is idealistic and ambitious in its strategy to take over the world, not for financial gain but for individual freedom, technological advancement, cultural good and improved quality of life.

A serious disconnect surfaced quickly between personal values and organizational values and that disconnect was his demise.

A very open interview with Mr. Eich was published on April, 2. Just one day later, Mitchell Baker, Executive Chairwoman at Mozilla wrote a blog post that was, in short, an apology. An apology for not staying true to the organization's values, for not addressing the controversy around Eich's appointment swiftly and for not holding the company to the standards expected from the community.

Baker's words were strong and carried a note of humility and a renewed commitment to the organizational mission.

It seems Baker might have taken her quick public approach in reaction to another similar situation at U.S. chicken restaurant chain Chick-fil-A.

Leadership values raked over the coals: Chick-fil-A and Dan Cathy

In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, publicly condemned gay marriage. This PR sensation set off a firestorm of social media, picketing outside Chick-fil-A restaurants and "kiss-ins" inside.

So why did we see all the fuss at Chick-fil-A, especially when Cathy's religious beliefs are well known and even demonstrated by the chain closing on Sundays to honor the CEO's commitment to God?

Why, indeed.

Chick-fil-A's values are deeply based in its socially conservative agenda, so it remains a bit of a mystery as to why the organization took so much heat.

Cathy's actions were a bit more polarized than making a simple donation to a controversial cause. His actions became a public stage of debate and he did not back down. He did not immediately apologize, and he turned the situation to a much more political debate by taking a strong stand and voicing it loudly.

Many experts have commented that while Cathy's actions did not hurt short-term sales, they may have done more damage to the brand.  

It seems that Cathy has turned around on the issue. In an April 8, 2014 interview with USA Today he did, in a roundabout way, apologize and comment that in the future, "I'm going to leave it to the politicians and others to discuss social issues."

This might be the best advice and the best answer to the question, "To what end do we have to keep those views in check, under wraps or even hidden from our professional lives?

Far away. The best advice, is keep them far away.

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