Your values are your core beliefs, functioning as ‘unconscious drivers’ that influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions as a leader. They are formed by the things that matter most to you and direct the ways you act in a given situation.
For example, you may value supporting the growth and development of those you lead and so you devote significant time to 1:1 coaching and mentoring.
When you’re clear about your values—and the ways in which they influence your leadership—you can strengthen your impact.
However, you can only unlock the ‘power’ of your values when you know and understand what they are.
What are your values?
Leaders function within different sets of values. One set of values is defined by the organization itself. These may be the values articulated in a mission statement.
However, the values I’m referring to in this article are your core personal values: those unique factors that shape and influence you as an individual and therefore as a leader. These are the things you believe in and value the most. For example, that might be the health and well-being of your team. However, someone else might value clarity and transparency in all they say and do.
What’s especially important about personal values is that they are underlying influencers. These influencers represent your priorities and motivations, whether you realize it or not. And they can, and do, change over time.
Dr. Frank John Ninivaggi at Yale University defines them well, ‘Values are words commonly used to mean beliefs, but values are typically nonconscious and implicit motivators. They fuel emotions, feelings, thoughts, and behaviours.’
How do values influence your leadership?
Values influence your leadership positively and negatively, whether you’re conscious of it or not. As in life, they play a pivotal role in your ability to align to your purpose—finding deep, meaningful fulfillment in all that you do. However, you must know and understand your values before you can appreciate how they influence you.
How do you ‘know’ your values?
The process of ‘knowing’ your personal values is not complicated. However, it does require a little time and commitment.
You can break it down into three simple steps:
- Reflect: to help you shine a light on what matters most.
- Sift and Sort: clarify your core beliefs.
- Rank: choose your TOP FIVE (giving yourself latitude to create ‘family’ groups of like-minded values).
Then, when you’re clear about your top values, you can begin paying attention to how they show up and influence your leadership (or not.)
The more you know and understand about these personal influencers, the more intentional you can be about leading through your values to boost your efficacy as a leader. It’s a process many of the leaders I coach have found well worth the time they invested.
What happens when your leadership and values are aligned?
I once worked with a leader who was struggling to find her voice. For her, speaking up in large meetings with more senior management present was especially intimidating. Though she was knowledgeable, she also felt nervous and uncomfortable, preventing her from engaging in the conversation. She was frustrated her fears were holding her back and recognized she was not contributing her much-needed expertise in the field of inclusion.
As we explored the challenge, her passion for the subject matter was obvious, pointing to deeply held personal values around human rights and inclusivity. When we worked to distill her top values and clarify their significance in her life, this leader was able to become more open and creative in exploring how she might speak up, even when it was uncomfortable for her to do so.
She learned to use her personal values as a leadership lens to help her speak up more frequently, and with greater impact. In the process, she noticed that the deep expertise she brought to the conversation—her voice—was appreciated and, in time, sought out. A good example of what can happen when you know your values and lead in alignment with them.
What happens when your values are ignored or compromised?
Being clear about your core values also helps you lead more skilfully when your values are being crossed or compromised. For example, have you ever found yourself partnered with a colleague on an important project only to realize halfway through that your collaboration is creating enormous conflict or stress for you, and the project is suffering as a result?
Take the time to reflect calmly, thoughtfully and without judgement about what’s really going on.
- Is this a situation in which you’re feeling your voice isn’t being heard or respected by your colleague?
- Are you noticing that your commitment to honouring deliverables and timelines isn’t being matched, and the project deadline is at risk?
By taking the time to consider what’s going on, and which of your values is being compromised, you’ll be far better equipped to consider your next move.
In the example above, that might be calling a pause on the project to regroup and open a heartfelt conversation with your partner about how your collaboration is going. Or it might be initiating an interim-review process that will allow you to realign your approach to the project as well as respective roles and responsibilities. Either approach gives you the opportunity for a reset and a return to a more effective outcome.
Personal values matter in leadership as in life. As values influence your thoughts, feelings, and actions, it pays to clarify yours. It’s also essential to understand all the ways your values show up in your leadership, whether positively or negatively.
When you take the time to deepen your awareness of values and lead from yours, you add a powerful tool to your leadership toolkit.
The impact? More effective leadership and deeper personal fulfillment.