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The importance of value-based leadership

It is hard to remain positive when we are surrounded with negativity: rising unemployment, falling revenues and hardship dominate the daily headlines. Yet now is the perfect time to focus on the positive and turn bad news into good, writes Peter Thomas.

The global economic downturn, which has touched all of us in some way, presents us with the perfect opportunity to rethink what's important in life and the true meaning of success. From there, we can focus on how to achieve success, or more of it, for those already on their way.

I have long believed that the only way to be successful - no matter what your definition of success may be - is to start by identifying your values. If you focus on your values, your decisions in life become easier.

As a husband, father, grandfather and international businessman for more than 40 years, I have been through a number of ups and downs. By allowing my values to dictate my direction and setting of goals, I have been able to work through and overcome many obstacles. I have also turned negative experiences, some of which I had no control over, into positive outcomes.

In the late 1970s, I was on top of the world in my real estate business when the market was booming. Almost overnight my fortune of $150 million plunged to minus $70 million when the market took a turn for the worse in the 1980s. Instead of giving up, I took a deep breath and checked in with my values. Health was one of them, so instead of hitting the nearest bar, I hit the running trail. The physical activity helped clear my head, refocus and build the stamina I needed to recover from this serious setback.

I eventually rebuilt my business without ever having to compromise my values. What I realised through this turmoil was that although I had lost my money, I was still blessed with many other things that were actually more important than the money: my health, my family and my friends.

In 2000 my life was marred by tragedy when my only son, Todd, committed suicide at age 36. In the days and weeks that followed I thought of nothing else. For the first time in my life I encountered something I could not fix. There was no way of bringing Todd back. I felt unmotivated and seemed to sleepwalk through my days without the spark, desire and excitement I had always possessed.

I decided to channel my grief in a positive direction by starting the Todd Thomas Foundation, which raises the awareness of the magnitude of mental illness and the effect it has on people and society. I also focused my energy on other worthy causes. In 2008 we donated funds to Royal Roads University in Victoria, British Columbia, to help launch The Todd Thomas Institute for Values-Based Leadership. The Institute is a centre of excellence for education, research and practice in values-based leadership to help communities, organisations and individuals balance economic, social and environmental challenges and opportunities.

There is no time in the history of America when it has been more evident that business leaders have compromised their values by placing the bottom line ahead of all else. Our hope is that the Todd Thomas Institute will change the business leaders of tomorrow.

Shortly after my son's death I also founded LifePilot, a non-profit organisation that offers workshops to empower people to reach their potential through the Five Foundations: values, focus, visualisation, inspiration and reflection. These Foundations are like pillars that help you stand tall, in good times and bad, and inspire you to realise the kind of life you aspire to lead.

The Five Foundations have supported me tremendously throughout my life, along with thousands of others. For instance, my friend Alfredo J. Molina, chairman and CEO of Molina Fine Jewellers, has built a remarkable business with a family tradition of excellence that dates back to the Italian Renaissance. He overcame many obstacles, through a combination of hard work, strong values and believing in his potential. He visualised his Phoenix store out of what had previously been a parking lot.

Today, Molina Fine Jewellers is housed in one of the city's most beautiful buildings, his business is thriving and he is one of the most respected in the industry. There is not a charitable organisation in Arizona or in many major North America cities that has not received the benefit of Al and Lisa Molina's generosity.

Sticking to your values is the key. Whether you have lost your job, lost a loved one or simply feel the pressures of life weighing you down, I strongly recommend stepping back and re-examining your values. Then decide how you will push through. Employing and standing up for your values is the difference between being a leader and being a follower on your own path to success. It is a true measure of achievement.

As the late legendary musician Elvis Presley once said: "Values are like fingerprints. Nobody's are the same but you leave them all over everything you do."

Peter's new book, "Be Great: The Five Foundations of an Extraordinary Life in Business - and Beyond", a collection of stories and advice from a variety of sources who reached their goals by being true to themselves, is available now.

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