One of my early articles for this publication over a decade ago was The Five Most Important Questions for BRAVE Leaders. Originally designed as a way to look at culture, it’s also a framework for leadership, looking at five questions across the acronym – Behaviors, Relationships, Attitudes, Values, Environment – from the outside in (in reverse, which drives some people nuts):

  1. Where to play? (Environment – context)
  2. What matters and why? (Values – purpose)
  3. How to win? (Attitude – choices)
  4. How to connect? (Relationships – communication)
  5. What impact? (Behaviors – implementation)

The article dug into these.


As a leader, you must understand the context in which you’re operating and interpret and create context for others. Start with your organization’s history including the founders’ intent. Then understand your current situation and recent results. Add to that thinking about possible future scenarios for your business and competitive conditions to inform your where to play choices.


CEO Connection ran over 50 CEO “Boot Camps” between 2005 and when COVID hit. Virtually every long-serving CEO who addressed the group agree that the number one job of a CEO is to own and drive the company’s vision and values. Remember, happiness is good. For most people this involves a combination of doing good for others, doing good for themselves and doing things they are good at.

It is imperative for you as a leader to define the value you will create and the principles you will follow to get there. A critical piece of this is moving from theoretically elegant values that no one really believes to guiding principles actually guiding what people do.


Strategy is about choices. You must decide how you are going to win, where you are going to focus your efforts, and where you are not going to focus. Domination over time requires a long-term view and ongoing discipline. Success in a niche like Tony McDowell and Finch Paper requires flexibility. Innovating like Steve Jobs and AppleAAPL +0.2% requires a relentless passion to keep one step ahead of everyone – on a continual basis.

Start with your core focus so everyone understands which part of Porter’s value chain you’re going to hang your hat on (Design – Produce – Sell – Deliver – Support.) Then agree sub-strategies so people know where to invest to be best-in-class, world class, strong or just good enough. Make sure those are linked to your fundamental culture choices.


Everything you do or don’t say, act on, listen to and observe communicates, 24/7, forever. You can choose a single, simplifying message purposefully and leverage it in all your communication, strengthening relationships along the way. Or you can let people interpret and misinterpret things as they see fit.

Indirect communication is probably sufficient to make those complying follow policies. If you want people to contribute, you’ll need direct communication and guidelines. And if you want people to commit to the cause, you must connect with them emotionally and give them the freedom to co-create their future in line with shared guiding principles.


Environment, values, attitude and relationships all inform behaviors. Like P&G’s John Pepper, you lead with your feet, with what you do, more than with what you say.

Leaders are defined by their followers. The only way to achieve your vision, in line with your values, in the context you choose, is through the attitude, relationships, and behaviors you model and engender in your followers. It’s not about you. It’s about your cause. Be BRAVE yourself and help them be BRAVE individually and together in a winning BRAVE culture.

Add a decade’s learning

This is more powerful than we originally thought. We’ve used it as a simple organizing framework for a whole plethora of situations, problems and opportunities. We’ve used it to assess potential employee’s fit by comparing their BRAVE preferences to the organization’s BRAVE culture. We’ve used it to help merge cultures. We’ve used it to frame creative briefs. We’ve used it to deal with complex issues and solve tactical problems. The power is in its simplicity. You can remember it, adapt it for your particular needs and use it.

Click here for a list of my Forbes articles (of which this is #809) and a summary of my book, The Merger & Acquisition Leader’s Playbook

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