How Values and Purpose Create Better Leaders: Introduction

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Ever worked with a manager who knew what mattered and stood her ground about these things? Then you probably worked with a manager who used values-based leadership (VBL). VBL is a leadership philosophy that steps outside of measuring success by prestige, personal wealth and power. It is not about emulating the great leaders of yesteryear. Instead, it is a practice of identifying what matters to you, what you stand for and what values you have in your life. With this basis of knowing your purpose, making the right decisions in life and leadership becomes easy.

Making the right decisions is only the beginning. The practice of VBL is important for  leaders because it creates and maintains company culture, informs employee selection, guides the direction of company growth, and adds meaning to the work required to maintain the organization. That meaning starts with the leader, and passes down to all levels of the team.

However, understanding your values and doing the “right thing” isn’t simple. In fact, for all of us, it’s a lifetime challenge that requires thought and practice. So let’s talk about the definition of a value.

What is a value?

Many people think that values are ethics or morals; they’re not. Values are what is important to us, what we’ value’, and what gives us purpose. Just as organizations have values, individuals do too. Most people have approximately 5-7 core values that identify who they are at their core. Each person’s values are unique to that person; even if two people happen to pick the same word, such as integrity, each person will demonstrate it differently in her daily actions and language.

It’s important to note that values are not just for work. Values reflect who we are on a daily basis, in everything we do at home and at work. This holistic approach helps us be a leader in all aspects of our life, not just in our careers.

Why do I need to know my values?

Values give us our sense of purpose. On a leadership level, when we align with our values on a daily basis, we have more energy and feel more fulfilled because we are leading from what’s important to us. When we don’t align with our values, we feel less authentic and become demotivated about our daily lives, which reflects in our leadership.


Think of it as a tree: values are our roots that keep us grounded in what’s important to us. The strength of the values determines the strength of the trunk, branches, leaves and fruit from year to year. A strong tree supports the ecosystem around it; a leader with strong values supports the organizational culture.

Let me give you a personal example. One of my core values is named “Wind in Your Face”, which means the spirit of adventure or the feeling that I get when sitting on top of a safari vehicle with the wind blowing in my face. It’s vitally important to me to try new things, make mistakes, be creative and have a sense of personal and professional adventure every day. When I align with this value, my clients and team know to expect ‘out of the box’ thinking from me. Some of my ideas and methodologies may seem unconventional, yet it’s important for me to try them and learn from them. How do I align this with my decision making? When evaluating a potential client, I will assess how much myself and my client will stretch and grow with while working together. If I feel that this is a new client will provide that mutual opportunity for growth, I will likely take the job. If I feel that the potential client isn’t open to new ideas, I will likely decline the job.

Anne Loehr on Safari

Identify Your Values

Bob McDonald, president and CEO of Procter & Gamble says this about values-based leadership:

It is important for each individual and each organization to get in touch with their education, experiences, culture, family heritage and organizational memberships to develop their own set of beliefs.

As you examine your life and review what you value, have you carried these values forward into your business life? Maybe those values include honesty, integrity, or gratitude. Have those values been woven into your leadership style?

Stay tuned for part two of my series on values-based leadership where I will discuss how to find your purpose and align that purpose with work. Then in part three, we will talk about exactly how to put your values into action.

In the meantime, can you identify the leaders around you who are practicing values-based leadership? How can you tell? Can you compare their behavior to a leader you’ve experienced who is clearly not practicing values-based leadership? Please tell me all about it–  send me a tweet, leave a comment below, or write me an email.

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  1. erick fischer
    May 11, 2014

    [wind in your face as you put it]? WE all have some form of root system more than others I can say its easy to take any challenge when your roots are good And I can tell you when the storm comes greater than the natural design of the root system tremendous stress will kill that tree over night.

  2. Kathy Keroack
    May 8, 2017

    I firmly believe that a person needs to be in touch with their values so we can align our self purpose with our work purpose.

    • Anne Loehr
      May 9, 2017

      Thank you for reading; I completely agree– it’s a must!

  3. Dave Hennessey
    May 9, 2017

    I agree with Kathy’s observations. I also think that it takes a special effort to self identify and define our values. It is an on purpose exercise to get it done.

    • Anne Loehr
      May 10, 2017

      Hi Dave,

      Thank you for reading. Yes, defining personal values takes effort! And after you do the work, you have to practice incorporating your values into your personal and professional life. If you get to part three of this series, there are some practical tips for practicing values-based leadership, and the tips apply to everyday life as well.

      • Mary Ellen Fahringer
        July 25, 2017

        A person’s values are reflected in everything they do. It drives them to be the best they can be.

    • Anne Loehr
      October 11, 2017

      I agree, Dave. It takes work and is a continual, intentional process. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Teresa
    October 6, 2017

    If you don’t stay focused on your core values, you will continue to get pulled into competing projects and tasks….you need to spend your time wisely doing what you should be doing…what matters most.

    • Anne Loehr
      October 11, 2017

      Hi Teresa,

      Thank you for your comment. You’re exactly right.


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