How values-centered leadership impacts culture

leadership insights series September 2019


“Culture eats strategy for breakfast,” as the former business guru Peter Drucker would say. Why? Culture is the sole unique identifier of an organization. Others can copy anything you do – strategy, products, services and more – but culture is yours alone (for better or for worse).

Maria Fernanda Corral

I believe people are inherently made for greatness and, given the right opportunities, they will thrive.

Historically, leaders have invested time and energy in strategy, but have not been as intentional in building a culture that fits their organization. One of the most important elements in creating a positive culture lies with the leadership team authentically living the organization’s core values. You can see these values naturally shining through by how leaders make decisions, interact with their teams and external partners, conduct business on a day-to-day basis and determine the behaviors they promote or tolerate in team members.

As the Vice President of Global Talent Growth for Children International, a global humanitarian organization helping children break the cycle of poverty, I am focused on developing leaders who can build a values-based culture that enables us to fulfill our vision. Here are a few insights worth sharing:

Core values matter

To have the right culture demands you invest time and effort up-front to identify your core values. At Children International, after much thought and with the involvement of many collaborators, we identified values that matter to our organization.

Our values are:

Live the mission
See potential in everyone, everywhere
Human connections matter
Always learning
Own the impact

These values are intimately connected to our mission and vision: bringing people together to end poverty for good. They are also unique to our organization and clearly represent who we are and our deepest beliefs. Our values are the foundation of our culture and include clear observable behaviors.

For example, let’s look at “see potential in everyone, everywhere.” I truly believe people are inherently made for greatness and, given the right opportunities, they will thrive. As a leader, I help unleash the potential of others through coaching, on-going feedback and supporting development plans. Putting our values into action, like this, is where the real power comes from and change occurs.

Listen first

I recently went on a “listening tour” to see first-hand what is happening with our teams around the world in Zambia, Ecuador, the Philippines, the Dominican Republic and beyond.

At each location, I saw our values come to life through our employees – in their actions, language and in the way they recognize one another through our “Values in Action” award program. Our employees are invested in the youth we serve and care about making a difference in the world. The same is true for our large volunteer force (9,000+ strong) which is about 98 percent female. I recall one mom volunteer saying: “I had just given birth – a C-section. I wrapped my stomach and still came to volunteer. CI has taught me to value myself as a woman and mother.” Their passion, intrinsic motivation and commitment were powerful to see! By purposefully living our values, we are all our doing our part to fulfill our mission.

To have the right culture – one where employees feel valued, where they are doing meaningful work, and where they feel part of a winning team in an environment of trust – requires everyone’s commitment and mindfulness, especially that of the leadership team.

Leaders pave the way

At Children International, my job is to provide our leaders with the right mindsets, skills and tools to build high-performing teams that reflect our values-centered culture. In the next two years, we’re developing 200 leaders in our organization to perform four essential roles aligned with our organizational values:

Inspire a culture of trust
(Human connection matters)
Create a shared vision and strategy
(Live the mission)
Execute team goals 
(Own the impact)
Unleash potential through coaching
(Always Learning + See potential in everyone, everywhere)


When leaders make culture and values a priority, it attracts talented teammates who believe in an organization’s “why” (passion/purpose), drives employee engagement and retention, and improves performance.

The collective behaviors and passion of our people – our culture – is Children International’s competitive advantage in helping youth break the cycle of poverty. Your culture can be your competitive advantage too.

Learn more about Maria Fernanda Corral.



You must be logged in to comment. If you have an account, click here to log in.


This site uses cookies to improve your experience. You can restrict cookies through your browser; however that may impair site functionality.