To believe in you as a leader, people have to know (1) who you are and what you stand for, and (2) whether or not they can trust you. In other words, leaders must walk their talk, and in order to do that, they must have a talk to walk. Values are your talk, and living in accordance with them through your behaviour is your walk.

Unfortunately, it’s far easier to preach our values than to actually live them. Here are four steps for putting your core leadership values into action:

Step 1: Identify your one big thing

It’s pointless to choose values without a daily commitment to deliberately cultivating that value in action. People don’t experience your aspirations — they experience your behaviour.

On making behavioural changes, Harvard’s Robert Kegan and Lisa Lahey strongly recommend that instead of working on multiple changes at the same time, we always focus on what he calls your ‘one big thing’, or ‘OBT’. This recommendation aligns completely with our 30 years of experience in this work. Less is most definitely more. Your OBT is the one big thing you want to change in your behaviour that will help you live your values and aspirations more consistently. By choosing your OBT, you are being deliberately conscious of your growth edge. You understand that this will likely lead to discomfort, but that it will be worth the effort. You are choosing to step out of your comfort zone.

Here’s a useful hint: Your OBT is probably the last thing you want to do, the thing you resist the most. That’s where your socialised mind challenges lie. Paul Spittle, at Sanofi, explained, ‘My OBT was given to me by my team: “Empowering others to challenge the status quo.” I never would have come up with that in a million years. My team’s feedback basically was, “You’re really good at challenging the status quote yourself, but that doesn’t always leave space for other people to do it. Create the space for and encourage other people to do it.” I thought that was brilliant feedback. It’s extremely difficult for me to do. And what’s so beautiful about it is I never would have come up with it myself.’

Step 2: Identify additional skills you will need

Once you’ve chosen your OBT, your next step is to create the conditions for success. Ask yourself, Are there any other steps I need to consider to help me succeed? This step may include horizontal and vertical growth, the specific qualities, attributes, skills, competencies and behaviours you’ll need to make it easier to succeed at your OBT.

For example, suppose you’ve chosen as your OBT ‘Become more effective at holding team members accountable’. In this case, you may want to read books and attend seminars on improving your communication skills.

Step 3: Hold yourself accountable

The third step is holding yourself accountable for your OBT. There are many strategies and tools for doing so, which can include involving other people in holding you accountable. The prime conditions for growth involve both pressure and support, and you need both in your practice. When you hold yourself accountable, you create healthy pressure for change. But pressure without support can be demoralising, so the pressure must be balanced by support.

Step 4: Create support structures

Speaking of support, to achieve your OBT you must create support structures that help you succeed. These support structures include using rituals, involving other people and seeking out education opportunities.

Suppose your OBT is ‘Be calm under pressure’. To help you with this, one daily ritual could include 10 to 20 minutes of meditation. Another ritual could include setting up a support group that meets every two weeks to discuss your OBT and practise it together.

You will want to involve other people to support you in your practice, such as trusted coaches and mentors, close friends, family or therapists.

By taking committed action in the direction of our values, we consciously move towards who we want to become, reducing the cognitive dissonance we feel and increasing our inner peace. Ultimately, the closer we align our behaviours with our values, the more we create a healthy environment in which all can grow and lead meaningful lives.