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Values-Based Leadership: Living in the Moment

June 20, 2018

If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re failing the central tenet of Mark Fernandes’ session from the VSCPA Business & Industry Conference, “Values-Based Leadership: In the Moment.” Sorry about that.

But the good news is that a pretty simple task, completely in your control, can help you break out of that rut.

“Ninety percent of us fire up some kind of technology within five minutes of waking up in the moment,” Fernandes said. “Ninety percent. And there goes your present moment awareness, out the window. You’re staring down. And I’m one. I sleep with mine.”

The mindfulness that is the opposite side of the smartphone-addicted coin is the key point of Fernandes’ presentation. The average person makes 35,000 semi-conscious choices a day, including 9,000 choices made in full consciousness. That means you have 9,000 opportunities, give or take, to make someone else’s life better. That’s the lesson Fernandes hopes to impart.

“Just be aware that you have it. Most people don’t even think about that,” he said. “We’re so not present. The first realization is that we do have those moments where I can put a smile on someone’s face.”

That’s not something that came naturally to Fernandes, the chief leadership officer at the Luck Companies, a Richmond-based mining and construction company. Values-Based Leadership (VBL) isn’t a new concept to the VSCPA, nor is Luck’s history. You can read a more comprehensive assessment here (PDF), but the Cliff’s Notes version is that the company essentially tripled in size about 10 years ago, going from a small, family-run business to a major corporation. While that certainly didn’t hurt the company’s bottom line, leadership felt that the corporate culture had taken a severe hit.

“We went from this really small, healthy, family-run, family-owned business and that’s how it was held together,” said Fernandes, who has been with the company since 1990 and was the company’s president during the expansion. “We outgrew that and we had no systems in place. We had never codified the values, and the wheels, from a cultural perspective, came off and we became very dysfunctional.”

Values-Based Leadership was Luck’s response to that shift. The company is on its third version of the model, which has evolved to engage the world in general instead of just a single employee or company. The first version of VBL dealt with getting people to understand themselves, while Fernandes described version 2.0 as Luck’s version of Match.com — “Go find people and places who align with who you are,” as he put it.

Version 3.0 deals with people attending to their own mind, body and spirit and putting what they learn to work in their daily lives.

“We focus on having more good days than not,” Fernandes said. “Not perfect. But they will be able to walk out the door and hopefully think more about moments and the choices they have to make, and the secret sauce of how they make more of those moments.”

Fernandes gets emotional when he speaks openly about VBL, and for good reason — it’s been a major part of his personal journey. He describes himself as a “recovering jerk” — a former powerlifter and bouncer who became a success through brute force and saw people, including employees, as a means to a profit-driven end.

“I was your classic alpha, an aggressive control freak who could get it done,” he said. “I did really well as president. I just left a trail of dead people everywhere I went. Now the employees are the means and the end.”

The development of VBL brought about a personal epiphany for Fernandes when he visited the Bell Leadership Institute at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. A conversation with Dr. Gerald Bell, the institute’s founder, was what really hammered things home for him.

“One of the things my mama taught us was to respect our elders,” Fernandes said. “That was very, very important to her, so we did. So I met with Dr. Bell, and this dude looked like Yoda. He looked about 100 years old, and I was this big powerlifter, so I’m meeting this little guy. I spent two days with him, and you talk about buckling my knees. He had my attention. I really liked him.

“We sat down on a bench and he said, ‘Son, I’ve interviewed 5,000 executives in my lifetime, and this is how it’s going to end for you. You’re going to have a big house, on top of a hill, with three shiny cars in the garage.’ Then he tells me there’s one other thing I need to know. ‘If you don’t figure this out, there’s not going to be a person in that house with you.’”

That started Fernandes down the road to recovery from jerk-hood. He describes a session with colleagues where he wanted to tell them that he cared about them and actually started stuttering when he got to the word “Care.” While he couldn’t even say the word without stumbling, it meant a lot to his colleagues — he got numerous emails that night about how much his words meant.

Those were his first steps down the road to mindfulness and, yes, happiness. And just as he made a conscious choice to treat people better, he hopes to inspire others to be mindful in the way they act, react and treat those around them.

“It can be a light-bulb moment. We just want to get one,” he said. “They can go home that night and dinner is burning and toys are all over the floor, and instead of getting out the gas can and lighting everything on fire, they say, ‘Honey, I love you. I’m so glad to have you.’ If one person goes home at night and does something different, we’ve lived our mission.”

Of course, you don’t come to VSCPA events to learn how you can connect more with your family. So it’s a good thing that VBL and living in the moment have very real applications for the workplace, largely in terms of how people interact with their employers and jobs. Working from an area of strength can make employees more engaged and effective, and part of VBL is helping people get in tune with their strengths.

“The best version of you is actually you,” Fernandes said. “You living and working in alignment with your personal core values, that’s where your strength is. You have to figure out what that is about yourself.

“You have to find your dance floor. You have to work in the places and hang around the people who celebrate who you are authentically.”

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