Defining Values: Why Leadership Values Matter

Updated: Mar 3


When was the last time you thought about your values? I’m talking REALLY thought about them in a way that results in the ability to not only articulate your values specifically but also draw upon them when work or life throws curve balls.


Values are not a destination, such as where you see yourself in 5 years. Nor are they your Meyers Briggs or DiSC profile and they’re not necessarily where you come from or who you’ve been.


It’s the idea of identifying what makes you fulfilled and whole, and putting those values into practice, fully aligning them with your life and work.


So – I’ll ask again: When was the last time you truly thought about your values?


Last week kicked off a three-part series designed to point us all toward success and growth in 2021. The inspiration for this work is the Chinese proverb: “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The next best time is now”. It tells us we must take action now if we want something for our future.


It begs the big question: What do you want for your team, your leadership, your relationships, even your life by this time next year?


If you are uncertain, the first step to getting answers is to spend some quality time reflecting. That was the focus of Part 1, last week’s post. If you missed it, check it out here.


Now that you have some insight after careful reflection, it is time to define or reaffirm your values. These are your principles or what is important to you, your leadership, or your life.


In this article, values and why they matter is discussed as well as recommendations for getting started. A worksheet is available to take you through a values-defining exercise.


Values and why they matter

The research behind values defines them as beliefs and standards that guide decision-making and evaluation of people, events, actions, and policies. (NobaScholar)


However, I prefer how Jenny Blake describes values in her book Pivot: The Only Move That Matters Is Your Next One, “Think about your values as life filters, the search criteria that help clarify your priorities. They are rules of thumb for what makes you most fulfilled, the core operating principles by which you live your life.”


These “life filters” ultimately guide our decisions about career, where to live, even with whom to spend our time. For example, a former client of mine identified a strong value for mentoring and developing others. She was asked to apply for a senior level leadership position responsible for finances and operations. While this position paid more and gave her more exposure to executive leadership, it included very little interaction with the junior staff she supported and advised. She was honored to be asked to apply but she ultimately passed on the opportunity. She felt certain the job would not be a good fit for her.


When we are living and leading aligned with our values, we feel more certain, grounded, and clear on what we want to do or achieve. Values help us make decisions and prioritize.


Answering the question, “What do you want…by this time next year?” is much easier when you have values to guide your thought process.


Recommendations and Resources

The internet is filled with exercises on defining values. Many will begin with a request to prioritize 10 words on a list of maybe 75-100. This is hard. To tease out what makes you tick from a robust inventory of words (e.g., generosity, wealth, power, helpfulness, humility, dependability, loyalty, order, reliability, integrity, humor, and achievement) is like ordering pizza. It all sounds good.


Before starting with a grand list, dedicate some time to think about and write down your thoughts to the following:

  • Describe a “peak experience”. This is a time in your life that you felt the most alive or the most content.

  • Think about three to four people who inspire you. What about them is inspiring?

  • When have you been most proud? What initiated the pride and what impact did your actions have?

  • Consider a time when you were frustrated, angry, or upset. What was going on? What values might be suppressed in this situation?

After reflecting on these questions, look for themes or common threads. Only after this, consult a list of values. The words that resonate the most are more likely to emerge once you have gotten clear on what is meaningful to you.


To deepen the insight from this activity, score your values on a scale from 1-10 on how aligned you feel to this value in your work and life. 1 means you are not aligned at all and you likely feel it. You are probably dissatisfied. 10 means you are fully aligned and probably feeling content.


After scoring, now ask yourself what is contributing to the score. Jot some notes down. What makes a high score high, same for low scores. Now, look for ways to shift your lowest scoring values up 2-3 points. Don’t shoot for a 10, rather, just a couple points higher.


Here is a worksheet, Defining Values Exercise, that will take you through this process. I recommend giving it a go and see what insight you gather that helps you answer the big question: What do you want (for your career, team, your leadership, your relationships, or even for your life) by this time next year?


Next week rounds out this series with a discussion of goals. Not just how to write them but also deciding which goals are worth pursuing.


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Until next time!


Amy Drader is a management consultant and credentialed coach with over 20 years’ experience. She knows first-hand the joys and challenges of leadership and is dedicated to helping managers and teams advance their performance. She is the owner of Growth Partners Consulting, a boutique leadership and team development consulting firm.


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