The Transformational Power of Core Values on Decision-Making

By Mike Howerton

With Co-Author Kim Stiver

Core Values Transform Decision-Making

Discover the Four Wins that Happen When You Clarify and Embrace Your Core Values

Imagine laying your head on your pillow after a long, full workday.

Your mind likely settles on a moment or two where you rethink aspects of the past several hours. Perhaps you mentally review a tense exchange you had with one of your department heads. Or maybe your mind is wrapped up in personal challenges, like replaying the drama you’re walking through with one of your kids. Your mind somersaults through a myriad of issues, both personally and professionally, as it replays conversations and fruitlessly weighs options as the minutes tick by.

This is a scenario that almost every executive I know struggles with at least one — if not many — nights a week. Burning the candle at both ends is often the last straw that finally leads many senior, high-performing leaders to reach out to a coach to help them restore a sense of balance.

As a coach and former chief executive myself, one of the first exercises I ask my clients to try has nothing to do with thinking at all. Instead, I ask them to focus on how they feel about the issues and events that swirl through their minds as they try to go to sleep. While many executives pride themselves on controlling their feelings and not permitting them to cloud their decision-making, acknowledging how you feel is intrinsically connected to how closely aligned you are with your foundational values.

Regardless of your leadership role — from CEO to department head — there is a strong, but often unseen or unrealized, correlation between your values, the values of your company’s culture, and the trajectory of the organization. From everyday decisions to major paradigm shifts, values at every level can be both unspoken and overt factors in everything from attracting and retaining talent to creating and sustaining innovation.

“Values drive vision, vision drives mission, mission drives strategy, strategy drives execution, and execution drives reward. It all starts with values,” says leadership expert John Maxwell.

Because a CEO’s personal values shape their leadership style, priorities, and decision-making, the company’s cultural values, strategic direction, and, ultimately, its performance are significantly impacted. When there is alignment between a leader’s values and the organization’s values, it creates a shared purpose, empowers employees, and drives ethical behavior. As Maxwell suggests, values provide the foundation for everything else in an organization. It is critical for CEOs to clarify their core values and ensure they align with and inform the values of their company. From family businesses to major conglomerates, values are the blueprint for culture creation and influence every decision.

With this in mind, here are four wins that come from honestly and clearly defining and embracing your foundational values.

WIN #1: Values Create Clarity for Sustainable, Long-term Success


When values are clear, decision-making becomes more efficient. Establishing and adhering to a strong foundation of core values creates clarity and provides a sense of freedom within pre-determined boundaries at the individual, team, and enterprise levels. What’s more, it improves operational efficiency and prevents decision remorse, which tends to reduce motivation and empowerment. Reflecting on how you and your team evaluate decisions and what criteria you use to determine whether a choice is right, wrong, good, or bad will help you and your leaders create and consistently apply a decision matrix grounded in shared values and commitments.

WIN #2: Values Ensure Organizational Alignment to Elevate Performance


How a decision is made is as critically important as the decision itself. Value-based decision-making considers whether or not everyone involved is committed to anchoring the decision to the organization’s shared foundational values. As leadership guru Patrick Lencioni wrote in The Advantage, “Values ingestion is crucial to building a healthy organization.”

Decisions made definitively, collectively, or in an informed manner present opportunities to reconnect to core values, realign and unify your leaders, and generate buy-in from key stakeholders.

Decisions within an organization are typically made in three ways:

  • Definitive decisions occur when an individual or small group makes a choice in relative isolation. This might be due to urgency or a directive from other leaders in the organization.
  • Collective decisions involve collaborative experiences where a problem is presented to a department, board, or project team for a near-consensus decision.
  • Informed decisions leverage the power of feedback and input from a selected group of leaders or insight contributors to educate the decision-maker.

Each decision-making method above is an opportunity to engage your leaders and their teams in values-driven conversations and avoid the pitfalls of making decisions based on short-sighted or conflicting goals. 

Download our free Decision-Making Reflection Tool, which includes a more detailed review of the three main types.

WIN #3: Values Fuel Courage to Drive Intended Growth


Unlocking the power of core values requires bravery. A strong commitment to values grants you the courage to drive growth in the right places, build brand equity, and capture market and customer loyalty.

Take, for example, my friend Tom Gocke, the CEO of the golf products company Subtle Patriot. Back in 2007, when he assumed his role as the Global Vice President of OGIO International (before it was acquired by Callaway), the first major initiative he embarked upon was to clean up the distribution channels. He made the shocking decision to pull their golf bags out of retailers who had values that were incongruent with the ones OGIO held firmly. Regardless of their profitability, if a store’s values had the potential to diminish OGIO’s brand equity, it was removed. Almost 30 retailers, both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce stores, were cut off, creating a short-term revenue dip in exchange for a long-term vision of living by OGIO’s values and brand essence.

Tom once said to me, “You recognize where you want to be and who you want to be associated with, then get there. That’s how you build brand equity.” 


Today at Subtle Patriot, Tom is passionately leading his own brand of high-end golf accessories, with a portion of profits going to serve veterans returning from combat.

Another great example is Zappos, a self-described customer-obsessed company whose top value is described in its slogan, “Deliver WOW through service.” Their commitment to customer care is so fierce that their leaders made the short-term sacrifice to bring all warehousing and shipping for the shoe company in-house at a considerable cost, but one that yielded a longer-term growth plan while sustaining industry-leading customer loyalty, according to Tony Hsieh in his book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

These types of moves are not for the faint of heart, which is why a strong foundation of core values is essential for fueling your courage, tenacity, and ability to be a future-focused, innovative leader. Ironically, when your values are set in stone, your agility and speed of decision-making are dramatically improved.

WIN #4: Values Create Leadership Satisfaction


Lastly, unlocking the power of your values will allow you to experience a deeper level of personal satisfaction as a leader and a heightened level of work/life harmony overall — in other words, better sleep and less stress. Most of the leaders I work with are already committed to their own development, which is critical for enjoying their executive journey. Through my work with Transcend, I often begin the coaching engagement with an exercise that helps my clients crystalize who they want to be — both in action and perception — as a leader. Defining your leadership purpose inevitably leads to articulating a personal mission statement and vision creation, inspiring a deeper sense of meaning and motivation. It also leads to a clarification and commitment to one’s deeply held worldview and values construct.

Once a leader has a clear understanding of the compelling mission, vision, and values they hold personally, it’s important that they evaluate them in an adjacent relationship with the enterprise’s mission, vision, and values. Because a leader’s values can deeply impact their mental health, even when they are unclear or unconsciously held, we also spend time evaluating where they overlap, conflict, or support each other across all facets of work and life.

Now, let’s go back to where this article began. Perhaps you’re seeing your bedtime thoughts or sleepless nights a little differently than before. Whether you overtly ruminate over pressing or distressing issues or you have a vague sense of dissonance, either can signal a misalignment between your values and beliefs in life and how you’re living them out at work and home.

By contrast, what if you could experience the feeling of putting your head on the pillow and sleepily sighing with gratitude and contentment? What if you could feel like today was a good day, regardless of circumstances at the office? What if you had more breathing room in your life to enjoy family and deal with any non-work-related issues? This kind of work/life harmony is attainable when you can see the integral consistency between the values you live out at work and the values you hold deep within.

Your values are the load-bearing walls in the architecture of your life. They uphold your leadership and guide your organization. Values bring clarity in chaos, alignment in adversity, and courage in uncertainty. If you are the CEO or a senior leader, then your values are the cornerstones of your company’s culture and your family’s culture.


As billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson put it, “For a company to stand the test of time, it needs core values and an emphasis on a culture that works.”

I invite you to make the decision to articulate and inhabit your core values and experience how this habit brings an exponential lift to your organization and personal life.

If you’d like to chat with Mike about implementing empowered, values-based decision-making within your organization or in your leadership role, he’d love to connect with you and get to know you more. To learn more about or connect with Mike, visit his bio page.

Kim Stiver, Transcend’s VP of brand and communications, also contributed to this article. Learn more about Kim, or connect with her via her bio page

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Mike Howerton

Senior Executive Coach

As a senior executive coach, I have more than 30 years of experience in organizational leadership and personal development coaching.

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