MBAs Must Identify Core Values, Innovate Themselves

Published on June 12, 2010

Being a business leader today is harder than ever before, said Scott Griffith, ‘90, chairman and CEO of Zipcar. “Thanks to the web and social media, there is more real-time information than ever before about your company, your customers, your employees, and, most importantly, you,” Griffith said during convocation for the class of 2010 at the Arie Crown Theater in Chicago on June 12.

To succeed, a leader must use the fact-based approach to decision making that is taught at Booth, but that is not enough, he said. “As a leader, you’ll need to embrace the somewhat ambiguous notion that for the most part, you cannot control the flow of information,” Griffith said. “It’s imperative that you find a way to be genuine, grounded, and understand the power of your decisions and how you communicate them, both in your words and your actions.”

In order to continually improve their leadership, MBAs must define their core values and personal brand, he said. “What is it that’s really important to you?” Griffith said. “What are your personal passions? How do you spend your spare time?” Griffith accented his remarks by adding a question that faculty speaker Harry Davis, Roger L. and Rachel M. Goetz Distinguished Service Professor of Creative Management, examined: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?”

Griffith said, “Nothing will help you make tough decisions in business and life more than really knowing who you are and what you stand for,” he said. “You will face important decisions among hard choices. If you’re not grounded by a simple, clear framework of personal principles and values that are meaningful to you, you’re going to end up getting frozen or making wrong or inconsistent choices.”

Griffith has identified as his core values:

  • Family.
  • Always being ready for a conversation with God.
  • Having a few great friends and not suffering fools for long.
  • Always learning and seeking feedback.
  • Making failure a friend.
  • Being genuine and “playing with your cards face up.”
  • Maintaining a world view and striving for a few lasting, positive impacts.

“I have added and adjusted to these over the years, but they don’t change much anymore,” he said. “They are my guardrails, and I really depend on them.”

After identifying their core values, effective leaders surround themselves with the right people, Griffith said. “It might feel good to work with a bunch of people who agree with you all the time, don’t offer feedback, and don’t point out some of your flaws or the risks you take that they don’t agree with,” he said. “But that won’t make you a successful leader for very long. Surround yourself with people who challenge themselves, as well as those around them.”

Most importantly, effective leaders must innovate themselves from time to time, Griffith said. “That is the most important innovation of all,” he said. “You can’t expect to be an effective leader in today’s business world, if you can’t be nimble and change with the times. That means you must be a student of everything going on around you. Military people call this situational awareness. Simply put, you have to keep a keen sense of emotions, messages, and other inputs and forces around you, and you have to observe how the people around you are reacting to your words and actions.”

—Phil Rockrohr