Crisis and Core Values

Don’t wait for the point of this blog. Here it is:

Crisis exposes a leader’s and an organization’s core values.

Crisis is a truth serum that relaxes your public personae and exposes your true values. You can sign a petition or join a rally in the moment to respond to expectations created by a crisis. Those actions may be driven by your core values, but they also may be thin platitudes to protect your image or position. If they are the latter, the stated core values are simply words printed on a page, or, what we now call virtue signaling.

In his book True North, Bill George observed that a leader’s core values are “navigational instruments to get their bearings at sea.” Or, as he quoted former Sara Lee CEO Brenda Barnes, “You can’t fake your values.” Os Guinness in his book, The Call, put it this way, “The Puritans lived as if they had swallowed gyroscopes; we modern Christians live as if we have swallowed Gallup polls.” Guinness published that statement in 1998. What have we swallowed that guides our behavioral choices in 2020? 

Jesus taught his disciples that the way to recognize “false prophets,” those who speak for but do not know God, is by their “fruit,” i.e., their actions. Fruit does not appear instantly. It grows over time and reflects the DNA of the tree that grows it. In the same way, the DNA of one’s core values produces visible fruit of behavior. If you want to know what someone believes, or, holds valuable, watch what he or she does—not in a moment, not on a stage, not in a crowd but daily over a long period of time, especially when under pressure. 

Crisis requires authentic leadership driven by core values, grown by integrity and a moral true north, not by the winds of cable news commentators or peer pressure. In a crisis, organizations and groups need leaders who lead from the depths of what they truly value that navigates them through the storm. 

In crisis, two types of leaders emerge: the authentic leader and the political leader: by political I mean one who uses and/or seeks influence for personal gain. Here are some comparisons. 

Authentic Leader Political Leader
Value-driven Perception-driven
Humbly listens and responds to those who raise concerns or criticisms Proudly pontificates for the applause of the crowd
Acts to fulfill calling or mission  Acts to gain advantage in position or power
Behaves consistently in crisis and calm Behaves in accordance with the pressure of a predominate group or trending idea
Accepts personal responsibility for his or her part in both the positive and negative outcomes of his or her behavior and the behavior of the organization he or she leads Avoids personal responsibility and identifies an enemy to attack and blame for the outcomes of the enemy’s behavior, not the actions of the political leader


Observe a leader in a crisis and you will soon see if he or she leads to serve others or to benefit his or her own political gain. 

How does this reality apply to our current racial crisis in America? Here’s an example from my realm of leadership.

One of B. H. Carroll Theological Institute’s formally stated core values is that we are a “diverse and inclusive community with a global impact.” That has been in our core documents since our founding in 2004. The current racial crisis in our culture has caused me as a leader to ask if this statement is aspirational or descriptive of our seminary. Upon reflection, I believe the answer is yes: it is both aspirational and descriptive. We are not perfect. While we may not measure up to a particular group’s expectations of representation or inclusiveness by its metrics, numerical and experiential evidence exists that we have opened our doors to multiple ethnicities and theological perspectives on a global scale. 

Where’s my evidence? It is in the numbers and behavior of our faculty, board, students, and graduates related to this stated value. For some observers, we have behaved as we have stated. For others, we have fallen short, and we need to step up to change. We have listened and are listening, to ensure our behavior matches our stated values. I recently invited one of our board members to speak to our Carroll Center faculty and staff from her vantage point as a black pastor regarding racial issues. She spoke honestly, both encouraging and challenging us to be who we say we are: “…a community of faith and learning to equip men and women called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of his church.” We will continue the dialogue with our Board, students and faculty, and we will find ways to address any shortcomings systemic in our structures.

Authentic leadership requires that leaders first examine their own values and evaluate whether or not they behave by those stated in public. Behavior, not statements or reactionary actions, is the measure of authenticity. 

How have you responded as a leader in crisis? 

Do you behave as group think dictates or as headlines persuade you to act, or, do you behave humbly according to the values that drive you? 

If your values have been exposed to be wrong or short of higher standards, how have you acted to address that reality?

Published: Jul 14, 2020


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