The Core Values of Leadership with Bessi Graham

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Bessi Graham is an award-winning entrepreneur with over 20 years experience working with business owners, governments, and large funding bodies to bring “doing good” and “making money” back together. 

From the grassroots of sitting in the dirt working with business owners in the Pacific Islands to the United Nations headquarters in Geneva, Bessi has seen it all and brings an unparalleled perspective on what makes change happen.

Podcast Highlights

Who is Bessi Graham? 

Bessi grew up in a family that had a powerful set of core values and that shaped her childhood and how she leads in the world. They didn’t have wealth but they did have an excellent network of friends that gave Bessi a lot of opportunities early on. Bessi’s parents both fell ill when she was younger, which forced her to become independent very early on.

The four core values were independent, work ethic, perspective, and social justice and all of them have become the foundations of Bessi’s work no matter where she was. Her gap year turned into four years of traveling and experience before going to university, and her career started off on a trajectory of leadership in areas like finance, non-profits, and government.

In 2010, Bessi set up an organization called the Difference Incubator to find businesses that had feet in both doing the right things in the world and making a profit. That’s where she’s been focusing her time and career in an effort to make the world a better place.

How do you do good while doing business?

The first thing people say in an organization when they want to accomplish something is that the biggest challenge is needing more money. Early on, Bessi learned that more money isn’t always the answer. The biggest block is usually the mindset around getting to the goal.

If you don’t address the underlying issues in your business and inject more money, you just end up losing money faster.

You have to look at what you’re trying to achieve and take a step back to get a wider perspective.

Profit being the only reason to be in business is actually a more recent shift in thinking. The roots of business, even ones that are very profit-focused, began in a place that was about solving a need in a sustainable way. Most business owners don’t start a business just to make money. They usually have a passion for what they are doing or saw a need that needed to be filled.

The pattern that Bessi keeps seeing is that even if you have created an incredible business, if the leader hasn’t done their own personal work, eventually they will undermine their business.

Depending on your business, the ways you can do good will change, but there are more opportunities than just giving a portion of profit to charity or setting up a foundation. There is always something you can do now with your time or talent, even if you don’t yet have the money.

Living Your Core Values

Bessi looks at values as those things that determine who you are and how you behave. For her, that means being driven to the point of being stubborn when trying to get things done in her business. From a perspective point of view, Bessi tries to zoom out and see the bigger picture and see what needs to change for the people involved in her work.

If you want to be successful while still contributing to the world, looking at your values is a great place to start.

If you aren’t sure what your values are, a life mapping exercise and having someone ask you questions about what you have done in the past will bring them more to the forefront. Looking at your life and behaviors to date is a good indication of what you value, especially behaviors that you have possibly taken too far. 

Why Core Values Are Important For Leaders

If you are trying to solve a big complex problem, it takes a lot of energy and focus. When you are out of alignment with who you really are, you will either burn out or blow up what you’re doing. The other downside is that you can do the work and feel only regret at the end.

Being aligned with your core values will actually give you energy in the work and that’s important for the longevity of your work. Before adding an exercise to determine your core values to your existing workload, look at what you’re already doing and try to figure out what you either don’t actually need to do or someone else can take it on.

Your core values will inform your decision moving forward, so they are very important to figure out and make sure you are aligned properly.


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