We Are What We Value

This is the 7th of 12 articles on leadership issues and the characteristics of successful leaders. Join us on a journey to become a more fearless leader. (To start at the beginning of the series, click here.)

Let me start with a question. Do you live your life with integrity, sharing your values and living true to them? You probably like to think so, but take a deeper look.

In his seminal work, The Nature of Human Values, Milton Rokeach defined value as “an enduring belief about the way things should be done or about the ends we desire.”

In leadership, two kinds of values are in play: the company values that guide you, and the personal values that define you. We will start with your personal values.

We are all different. We have diverse values and beliefs, and we bring these to work with us. When we are clear about our own values and understand the values of those around us, we find it easier to feel curiosity for others’ ideas, tolerate differences, and ultimately to trust one another.

To believe in something and not to live it is dishonest. –Mahatma Gandhi

As mentioned in Article 5, living in trust means living with integrity by sticking with the values you cherish and honoring your intentions. When you are clear about your values and live in alignment with them, you feel fulfilled. If you feel out of sorts and possibly out of alignment, ask yourself: What needs to change?

Do you say your family is very important to you and hold that as a value, but in actuality spend little time with them? How do you handle it when your actions and words don’t match your values, or are contrary to your best intentions? It happens to everyone.

When you are unclear about your values or when your own behavior goes against what you hold dear, you’re in conflict internally, out of unity with yourself. In this state, you risk undermining your own confidence, your credibility and performance, and ultimately your health. If this feels like it could be you, this is an opportune time to go back to basics and reevaluate your values.

Your values point toward your purpose in life. When your values are clear, you can design a career or work life and create a road map for the life you want to live. You understand what is important to you and can make choices accordingly. A bonus: Having clear values reduces conflict and increases harmony with others.

How Do You Live a Life of Purpose if You Don’t Know What You Value?

Values are immutable, answering the question, “What do I stand for?” Defining your values helps you uncover what’s truly important to you.

To take a fresh inventory, a good place to start is reflecting on your life.

  • What made you happy in the past, and what makes you happy now?
  • Where did you make good choices, and what were you thinking at the time?
  • What else contributes to your happiness? Make some notes of these.
  • Consider your life over the last several years, recalling projects in which you have participated. Identify two or three meaningful, energizing, enriching or outstanding experiences.
  • What characterized these experiences and made them meaningful? What made you want to continue to be part of them? Make a list of these attributes.
  • What do these lists say about what you value?
  • If you are unsure of your values or feel your previous values may have changed and evolved, try this: Referring to your life reflection and project lists, list all the values you associate with your life, such as dependability, loyalty, commitment and honesty. Highlight your top fifteen.

Then ask: Which of these values are essential to my well-being? If I impede or ignore these central values, will I be unhappy, make bad choices, or impact others in a negative way?

Distill this list to your top seven key values. When you consider these, do they feel right? Do your values clearly describe and address what you understand as your purpose for being alive?

How to Clarify Values That Lead to a Powerful Purpose

Your values come together to shape and influence your purpose.

In What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, Marshall Goldsmith writes, “We [leaders] need to look forward to where we are going, but it’s also important to understand your patterns, themes, beliefs, ideals, and your values because they are the foundation for building your future.”

You have probably heard, “If you don’t know what you stand for, you will fall for anything.” A purposeful person is in control of their destiny. When you live with clear purpose, you are motivated to try harder, develop resilience, and create the right attitude toward your success.

To help define your purpose, try asking these questions:

  1. What do I really enjoy?
  2. What am I passionate about?
  3. What are my big dreams and goals, the ones I don’t speak out loud?
  4. What do I most value in my life? Why?
  5. What does success mean to me, and why?
  6. What are my top three achievements?
  7. Is there anything I would be willing to put everything on the line for?
  8. If there were no physical or mental barriers, what would I like my life to look like?

My leadership work is the reason I get up every morning: looking forward to conversations with clients, energized to write articles and books, motivated to prepare for workshops and presentations. I know that my work helps change lives.

My purpose statement incorporates my personal values:

The purpose of my life is to express myself with honesty, integrity, warmth and compassion in order to awaken the spirit of greatness within each person that I encounter, and to leave the world a better place.

Do I Model the Culture and Values of My Organization?

The second type of values are company values that help structure your work and influence the culture of the organization. In your evolution as a leader, it’s in your best interests to ensure a good fit between your well-defined personal values and the values of your organization. When you lead, you represent the company values; your leadership reinforces or weakens them.

When you find your leadership under pressure, your personal value system helps you persevere and find new ways, while the company values provide a framework for decision making and action. Working and leading with your values foremost can decrease complexity and ease stress in the workplace. Values play a key role in supporting leaders.

In The Leadership Challenge, James Kouzes and Barry Posner state that leaders with the greatest credibility are clear and consistent about what they value, and meticulous in communicating these values to others. When you are clear about your leadership values and can articulate them to anyone in the organization, you create a clear path for yourself and make it easier for others to be in alignment.


Clear Values Create and Transform Company Culture

Studies show that organizational effectiveness and performance soar when individuals—leaders and employees—are aligned with the vision and values of their company. Effectively grounding your team in what the company stands for is a foundational task to be designed and developed astutely and reinforced continually.

When a company grows, the original vision, values and purpose may become muddy or lost in translation. Employees who begin with a positive outlook can become rudderless and gradually descend into negativity, their potential for collaboration and productivity lost.

Clarifying your company and team values is critical to success. The behaviors needed for an organization and a team to thrive and prosper are determined by the company values. Teams and organizations that hold a common set of values build trust, develop a code of conduct that everyone can use to guide them, and resolve conflict more easily.

Think about the values your company holds, both the stated values and how the company does business. Is it ethical? Does it stand by its word? Does it tend to employees, demonstrating their value in the larger picture? Is there work to be done there?

How about your team? Learning to respect and understand one another is a critical part of building a conscious workplace. Collectively defining your values as a team is a valuable exercise that can boost your ability to act quickly and decisively and to alter course with agility. On an individual note, connecting with the values of the people on your team strengthens your working bond and reinforces connection with your own values.

Having a clear sense of your values, and the values of the organization you serve are critical to being in alignment with yourself, and the purpose of your life.

Vision: the Next Building Block in Your Leadership Journey

In previous articles, we’ve talked about the courage needed to embrace change and face fear. You understand that trust is built by listening well and practice asking open-ended questions to gain clear understanding. You have clarified your values and ensured alignment between them and your company values. You have drafted a purpose statement. Next up: article #8, your vision for work, and for your life.

Jacqueline Wales is a motivational speaker, coach, and the author of The Fearless Factor @ Work, The Fearless Factor and other books. She believes in the power of fearlessness for creating the career and life you want.

I’d love to hear your comments and am happy to answer your questions!

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