What Does Your Label Say About You as a Leader?

What Does Your Label Say About You as a Leader?

Tips and Techniques

Checking food labels at the grocery store is commonplace today. We want to know what we are putting into our bodies. Is it high in fat or sugar? Is it gluten-free or low-carb? Does it have too much salt for my high blood pressure? Will added hormones give me cancer? Will chicken make me antibiotic-resistant?

It dawns on me that the process of examining food labels and aligning ingredients to my specific needs is a great deal like my direct reports examining my leadership label and seeing if it aligns with what they need.

In Learning Leadership Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner write that, “Authentic leadership flows from the inside out.” Making sure we wear our authentic selves clearly in our actions and words is foundational to gaining enthusiastic followers who are willing to open-up, be vulnerable, and build trust. It helps followers answer the important first questions for new leaders: who are you and what do you stand for?

Throughout the two-day The Leadership Challenge® Workshop, our leaders at First Command Financial Services examine who they are through a core values exercise. We ask them to define what their values really mean and then using those values as the foundation for their thinking to create their Leadership Credo. Working with the Value Cards Sort activity (pages 50-52 of the Participant Workbook) we give them 20-minutes during the workshop and ask them to continue their work overnight. The next morning, sharing their credos with fellow participants makes for some powerful moments of self-awareness. But as other organizations know all too well, finding a way to keep that clarity and excitement alive after leaders leave the workshop is a challenge. Over time participants forget what values they chose and the credo they created.

To combat this forgetfulness, we began a new experience during our workshops called, Your Leadership Label. Each participant is given a Mason jar and a label. When they decide on their top five core values, they place those cards into the jar. After defining their values and creating their credo, they write their credo on the label, place the label on the jar, and turn the jar so their table mates can read it.

Throughout the workshop participants also examine the LPI® Action Cards and choose one or two for each of The Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership®. These cards are added to the jar as well.

When participants leave the workshop, they have their Leadership Jar complete with their core values, the behaviors they most want to commit to, and a label to remind them of who they are and what they believe. We encourage them to commit their credo to memory so they can put a voice to what they stand for.

As a facilitator, I find this activity serves as a terrific reminder of key points we make during every workshop. And our leaders walk out of class with something very personal to place on their desks to remind them of the life-changing journey which we began during the workshop.


Karen Atwell,
PCC, is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge®. With over 35 years of varied leadership experience, she is currently Vice President, Leadership Development at First Command Financial Services where she focuses on innovating new approaches to talent strategy, assessment, succession planning, development, and executive coaching. She can be reached at katwell@firstcommand.com.

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