Today’s post is the featured article from the September 2012 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.

john-newWhat started as a TV series, from 1966 to 1973, became a box office phenomenon in the years to follow. While the filming and story lines became more sophisticated, the theme song never changed. As soon as you hear the name, it is quite possible you immediately hear the song in your head. It’s Mission Impossible. It’s also quite possible you remember the famous line: This tape will self-destruct in five seconds!

And without fail, it always did.

In the case of Mission Impossible, self-destruction was a good thing. The self-destruction was, ironically, a form of preservation of the information. It works the opposite when it comes to core values and leadership. Core values become your preservation from self-destruction.

The problem, in a world of speed and our sophisticated ability to mechanically measure things, core values are sometimes inconvenient. In my book, GOOD to the CORE, I stated “having core values will cost you.” There is no question about it. And individuals who specifically understand their own personal core values know this cost. So do values-based organizations.

They also know the value that values bring.

One of the most important values of knowing our core may very well be the role they play in working against the construct of self-destruction. While not impossible, the construction of our core ultimately makes it much harder to focus on our own self. It is a bit of a paradox in which we find that knowing our core values is not about us at all. While our core values do define who we are, they actually put into play why and how we show-up for our work and for others.

You might need to ponder that for a minute to see if it rings true for you. Yet, I can’t remember the last time someone described a personal or organizational core value to me that sounded self-serving. Hence they become our greatest protection from the construct of our own self-destruction. For the seeds of self-destruction are planted in self-focus.

Looking into our core keeps us looking out.

Self-destruction is different than failure. It is much worse. Failure can sometimes be caused by external forces. Self-destruction is not. In fact, we can self-destruct in the midst of what appears to be incredible success. The stats may very well prove that most self-destruction takes hold in the midst of experiencing success. Probably because success can easily seduce us into self-focus. It is in knowing our core that we can continue looking outward in the midst of success.

Another image you likely remember from the Mission Impossible series is the lighting of the fuse. That is where the music begins. Success, without understanding the specifics of our core, is like lighting the fuse of self-destruction. It only becomes a matter of time. My quote in GOOD to the CORE did start with “having core values will cost you.” But the quote finished with “but not having them will destroy you.” Once the fuse is lit, it is just a timing issue.

So why do so many organizations and their leaders virtually remain coreless? First, most are not aware of their condition. They assume they do know their core. Second, without intention, empty words have been positioned as the veneer of their core. Third, it is easier to write-off the value of values because in doing so it demands nothing from us. Fourth, and the case for most, it simply is not easy to define your core.

But it is not impossible!

As an individual and an organization, your mission (should you choose to accept it) is to specifically define your core. Otherwise, something more important than a tape will self-destruct. It may not be in five-seconds, but it will be just a matter of time.