The keynote speaker at the opening of the 2008 International Conference on Emotional Intelligence this week was Jim Kouzes, coauthor of the award-winning best-seller The Leadership Challenge, executive fellow at the Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University, and, according to The Wall Street Journal, one of the twelve best executive educators in the U.S.

What did he have to say that is of interest to the legal world? At a time when we are struggling, in spite of the economy, to retain both young lawyers and more senior attorneys with books of business, Kouzes revealed what makes people committed to their organizations: values.

According to Kouzes, the first step in earning employees’ commitment is the clarification of organizational values. His research indicates that people who are clear about their organization’s values (and also their personal values) are significantly more committed to the organization than those individuals who are clear about their personal values but unclear about the organization’s values.

All leaders must, therefore, he contends, be crystal clear about what they stand for.  The lynch pin for making this approach effective, however, is that leaders must be credible—the troops have to sincerely believe that their leaders not only say their values, but also do what they say.

Tony O’Reilly, CEO of H.J. Heinz, said it this way:  "Nothing energizes an individual or a company more than clear goals and a grand purpose. Nothing demoralizes more than confusion and lack of content."

The concept of "organizational values" are often viewed with suspicion by lawyers, who smell something akin to partisanship or other lack of objectivity.  Values are not one of those protected statuses under Title VII.  You can legally proselytize (and hire and fire) "what we believe in."  But you have to start out knowing what that is.  And living it. 

Ahhh.  There’s the rub.