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How Establishing Core Values Can Help You Turn Adversity Into Opportunity Entrepreneur Ryan Leonard, founder and CEO of global manufacturer NJF Worldwide, cites his core values as one of the primary reasons for his success

By Shishir Jajoo

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Ryan Leonard

Your launch isn't as successful as you hoped. A recession hits. You have a family crisis, just when your business needs you most. Entrepreneurship is full of unexpected challenges that can destroy your business if you're not prepared. One of the main things that sets apart the 25 per cent of startups that succeed is the ability to turn these types of challenges into opportunities.

Many entrepreneurs focus on practical issues when starting their businesses. As you're struggling to perfect your product and find your target market, it may feel like there's no time to reflect on your mission and what you believe. But ultimately, a business's core values are just as essential as its product or team.

Core values are qualities that represent an organization's highest priorities and fundamental driving forces. Entrepreneur Ryan Leonard, founder and CEO of global manufacturer NJF Worldwide, cites his core values as one of the primary reasons for his success. He learned the importance of core values early on. At the beginning of his entrepreneurial journey, he was still readjusting to civilian life after serving in the US military and lost two close family members at the same time. During these dark days, having strong values allowed him not to crumble, but to use his heartache as fuel for his business.

Related: The First Time We Tried to Define Our Company's Values, It Failed. Here's What We Did Differently the Second Time.

Get a Strong Foundation

Although everything in the world of startups is pushing you to strive for immediate success, it's important to create a strong foundation for your business early on. That way, when challenges start to arise, you'll already have your core principles to guide you.

In order to establish the values that will guide your company, start by thinking about your own core values. What character traits do you strive to maintain? What motivates you? What do you admire in other entrepreneurs?

When Ryan Leonard started NJF Worldwide, he took the core values he had learned when serving in the US Army with him into his business. This allowed him to see his mission at NJF Worldwide as an extension of his original mission to serve his country, and to take on challenges with the same level of grit and determination he did while in the military.

Taking this time to reflect and solidify your core values early on will have lots of benefits in the long run. It can help you stay consistent, meet the high standards you promise your investors and customers, and stay motivated when things get tough.

Related: 3 Steps to Establish Authentic Core Values

Build Trust And Loyalty

You're far more motivated to go above and beyond for your work when you're working for a company that aligns with your values. The same is true for your employees. Making sure that your team is on the same page about your company's core values will help them to stay motivated when challenges arise for them, and ultimately, bring in more value for your company.

Your core values should also guide the way you build and manage your team. When hiring new employees, make sure you not only look for people with the skills and qualifications you need but people who share your company's values. Make sure your management style is guided by your values as well—if value transparency in your products, make sure you're also showing it to your employees. When your actions match your words, your employees are far more likely to trust you and take you seriously.

Leonard's core values have helped him create a unique company culture at NJF Worldwide. His employees trust him because they have seen him do whatever needs to be done to finish a job, whether it's driving the trucks, placing orders, or making phone calls. They've also seen his loyalty in action as he gives back to his community, and makes sure that everyone can benefit from his success at NJF Worldwide.

Having strong core values will help you build trust with your audience as well. Authenticity is one of the traits that audiences look for most when connecting to brands, but even major brands struggle to cultivate it. When the tone you use in your marketing, the causes you promote, and the way you connect with customers matches the values that motivate you in and outside of the workplace, your audience will always be able to tell.

Related: What Makes a Good Company Culture (and Why It Matters)

Guide Your Search For Opportunities

Many successful businesses don't look exactly like what their founder envisioned at the start. Even highly successful entrepreneurs like the founder of the popular fitness company ClassPass, have had to pivot from their original idea in order to create something that really caught on.

If you find yourself having to pivot from your original business idea, having strong core values can help you make the right decisions. Instead of being discouraged by an initial failure, working towards your core values will simply motivate you to find other solutions to the problem you are trying to solve.

Even if you're not forced to pivot by an initial failure, you may find yourself wanting to expand the scope of your business to help it reach its full potential. Ryan Leonard's company, NJF Worldwide, began as a custom T-Shirt business but soon expanded to other areas of manufacturing. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the business was able to double in size by becoming a leading provider of testing kits and other medical supplies to state and federal government agencies.

With strong values, even a challenge as big as a global health crisis, which may knock other businesses down, will motivate you to look for new opportunities. Core values like integrity and selfless service can give you a business superpower by helping you see beyond the current situation and into what will help your business grow.

Related: Know Your Company's Core and Know Your Way Forward
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