By now, I have asked thousands of people to fully consider the following question for 30 days … do you believe core values build value? It is a defining landmark on the journey to core values. I specifically direct people not to undercut the time frame. I want people to wrestle with the question and challenge it from every possible angle … cognitive, analytical, experiential, and emotional. I provide them an answer for the first 30 days … “maybe.” However, on day 31, “maybe” is not an option. There are only 2 possible answers … YES or NO. Then, with full-disclaimer, I warn them.

Whichever decision you reach … it will change everything!

What I have failed to do, is bid fair warning that the journey to their answer is simply their first step. It might be the most important step … and likely to be their shortest one.

There are numerous reasons as to why organizational values come-up short or fall flat. Misplaced motives, diluted focus, or lack of real leadership can very visually contribute. Sometimes it is because core values are treated like a brand … rather than a way of work. These situations can be deceptively subtle and dangerously misguided. These usually drive from a place of trying to get something rather than provide something.

A common default flows from a significant deficiency of endurance. Core values will not only demand from you in the near term … but, more importantly, over the long term. There is a huge risk that the conversation of core values will get old … before the core values genuinely take hold.

The question I pose from the beginning only takes aim at direction. You might say it defines our commitment.

It has little to do with conviction.

It may very well plant the seeds of conviction. Yet, much like a seed, that conviction must be nurtured. And much like a plant, the conviction becomes more durable as it grows. Left unattended, for any length of time, a plant begins to wither. Likewise, so do core values.

There is a point where conviction ultimately drives behavior. Ironically, at the beginning of the journey … behavior nurtures conviction. It is the pathway from commitment to conviction that takes time. It takes persistence and patience … and more time. This is true of leader and follower alike.

The commitment to lead with core values begins by drawing a line in the sand … a line that marks the beginning of an evolution and not a revolution.

Conviction is the genuine version of commitment.

Conviction sustains time … for it is timeless. Unfavorable conditions sometimes wear the commitments of some down … while building the convictions of others up!

This is precisely why I think leaders need to publicly take core values for a test drive. It is one thing to rally leaders on the mountaintop and derive a set of core values. There has been many a commitment made on that mountain. It is quite another thing to become an endless living and leading example of those values.

A test drive will have a way to diminish commitment or nurture conviction. It will bring clarity to what’s in that should be out … and what’s out that should be in. This test drive is very much a learning process for leaders.

As leaders publicly demonstrate commitment … they develop conviction. As leaders learn to live the core values, they simultaneously teach others to follow.

We convict people for committing a crime because of the evidence in the moment. A leader’s conviction to core values will be determined by the evidence committed over time.

It a journey that begins with a simple question … and never ends.

Today’s post is the featured article from the January 2014 issue of The Front Porch Newsletter. If you would like to automatically receive The Front Porch e-newsletter on the last Thursday of each month just click here to sign-up for your complimentary subscription.