Values-Driven Leadership

Much discussion takes place each new year about shaping and declaring Core Values. Along with crafting and communicating a compelling vision (see my blog on how to accomplish that), clarifying and shaping your Core Values is equally essential. Because our core values – essential thoughts, beliefs, and convictions – are expressions of the leadership culture we desire.

Values function in two ways: they are both declarative and aspirational. We declare them with boldness and clarity, stating who we really are and framing how we want to lead. And our values shape the future culture we aspire to, how we want our group or team to feel when we are working together. 

So values create – and reveal –  the leadership culture and organizational climate in any group or team. Every person and every team has values. Some are known and practiced openly as in, “Our client’s needs always come first!” But others are less known, or hidden, or even unwanted, yet they are practiced unawares, as in, “We care about our employees…that is, as long as they meet expectations and goals.” Ouch!

Here is a basic process for discovering your true values. It is guided by a series of questions for discussion and ultimately shaping the values you want.

  • What is true for you? This means, deep down inside you, there are things that do not waver – core beliefs that define how you see the world. These may be the result of experiences, values handed down by parents or mentors, religious convictions, or simply things you just know to be true (“Treat others with respect,” “Always do the right thing” are examples.)
  • What makes you sad or angry? This is a way of discovering values by looking through a different lens. When you view the world or your organization, what moves you emotionally to a sad or angry place? What do you wish would change? This emotional reaction is probably connected to a value or belief you hold dear. For example, in a team meeting a weak member gets belittled by another teammate. The culprit crushes the spirit of the weaker member, who dares not reply in the moment, but feels shame or intimidation. The anger you feel is tied to something you believe about justice, fairness, or perhaps compassion and kindness.
  • What brings you joy? Now we flip the coin and look at those events or activities that make you smile. You see a need met, a new product developed, a person helped, an obstacle overcome, a friendship grow or a goal achieved. You smile because something feels good at your core. What is that? What do you “value” deep down inside?
  • What brings you energy? Though similar to “what brings you joy?” above, this is a bit different. Yes, energy can be derived from people or events that bring me joy. But energy comes from other sources as well – adverse circumstances, a challenge, a loss, a unique opportunity, a new friendship, a family event, a new kind of work, an exciting but challenging mission. What gives you a “rush” and makes you productive, excited about your work in the world, and gives purpose to your life?

These questions will get you started, helping you unearth core aspirations and convictions that will shape your life and work. Consider recording your thoughts in a journal or on a mobile device. It will help you identify what’s in your gut, what makes you tick. 

As you do this your Core Values will become clearer. And you can bring that clarity into conversation with other leaders, and together you will create the culture you long for, and sharpen the focus of your work and leadership.

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