The decision I was about to make was going to be tough, no doubt. As part of the process to interview for the CEO job, I was scheduled to present one final time to the Board of Directors. The meeting was already on the books. So when my son excitedly shared the date of his State Championship football game, my heart sank. It overlapped with the meeting. I had a choice to make: see the CEO interview process through as scheduled, or cheer on my son during his once-in-a-lifetime chance to play for a state title. Heavy, right? But, ultimately, I knew what I had to do.
In moments like these, knowing your values can help guide you to do what’s right for you. These are those crucial times when you’re pressed to force rank what’s most important to you and then live with the short- and long-term effects of your decision. Having a foundation of principles to rely on can make these decisions easier.
As for me, I texted our then-CEO to explain the situation…and that I would unfortunately need to miss the Board meeting. I reached out asking for flexibility while acknowledging that my choice might mean I’d be withdrawing from consideration for the CEO job. But for me, my family comes first. And to my humble surprise, he offered to connect with the other candidates to see if we could shift the time. The key players couldn’t have been more gracious, and here I am today.
Now look, I realize not every situation in which you follow your values is going to pan out like this. And I’ll be the first to tell you that as a working parent, there were plenty of things I missed (I was never the mom who made it to every school party or play). But in this instance, staying true to myself and what I believed was right worked out.
I’ve seen the positives that come from holding true to your values firsthand and encourage others to do the same. It nets you honest conversations, constructive feedback, and productive interactions. You get diverse thinking and new ways of looking at things. You build trusting relationships which fuel higher engagement. And you get opportunities to grow, develop, and steer your career.
I’ve also experienced what leaning on your values can mean for your business and your customers. In 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on states along the Gulf Coast. The devastation was unprecedented. With storm flooding, usually water comes in, then quickly recedes. With Katrina, the water stayed. As an insurance company, the most common course of action in incidents of flooding is to deem the affected cars a total loss and sell what parts you can for salvage. On an average total loss vehicle, your return might be upwards of 23%. But when we saw the areas affected by Katrina, we knew we couldn’t take our textbook action.
The stagnant flood waters were not safe or clean, and we simply couldn’t stomach reselling any parts of those cars. We knew that someone, somewhere would eventually reuse the parts or even possibly the car, and we just couldn’t reconcile with that. So Progressive did something unprecedented in our industry and decided to crush every single affected car that we insured. Even though it cost us millions of dollars, it was the right thing to do.
This was one of my proudest moments as part of a leadership team. And while the Katrina decision was the right call, I’ve had my fair share of missteps. When you’re a leader, you have to make some tough calls, and those won’t always result in the optimal business outcome. But, ultimately, I’ve learned that, outcome aside, when I lead with my values, I always feel good about how I arrived at a decision.