How Values and Purpose Create Better Leaders: Find Your Values

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Values are like a compass that points you to your true north

Values are like a compass that points us to our “true north.” Understanding our personal values helps us navigate decisions, make more fulfilling choices, and live in a way that is satisfying and meaningful. It is the road to finding our purpose. As a leader, personal values pass down to all levels of the organization, creating a cohesive mission and team, and informing the direction, decisions and culture of the company.

In my last post on how values and purpose create better leaders, I discussed what values are and why it’s beneficial to identify your own core values. In this post, I will present some exercises to help you clearly identify those core values.

Here are two tips to consider before starting the exercises:

Start with exercise number one and see if you are able to identify your values from this one exercise. Don’t feel that you need to complete all of the exercises to define your core values.

It’s best to do this with someone else who can listen, take notes and help you see what you may not see about yourself.

Exercises Used to Identify Values and Purpose

Exercise One: Identify a peak moment in your life

Can you recall a moment where your life couldn’t get any better? When everything felt aligned? It may have even felt like the best day of your life. Take some time to remember a peak moment and follow the steps below:

  1. Describe this peak moment in detail. If you are working on this exercise alone, write the description. If you are doing this with someone, talk about this moment for 2-3 minutes while the other person takes notes.

Here is an excerpt from my own peak moment:

One of my peak moments was taking leaders on Safaris for the Soul, African safaris that I co-created with Brian Emerson. I loved watching the leaders grow and develop during the two week program. I remember clearly the blue sky and green savannah, hearing the wildlife sounds, and smelling fresh nature.

  1. Think about and discuss what values are recognizable in this particular peak moment.

From the peak moment described above, you could say I value:

  • Being outdoors
  • Working with people to develop their potential
  • Being adventurous
  1. Pick the value or values that you’ve identified as most important to you. (Remember that your values apply to both your personal and professional worlds.)

From the three potential values I identified above, I pick ‘adventurous’ as the one that is most important to me in both my career and personal life.

  1. Define what the chosen value or values mean to YOU.

To me, ‘adventurous’ means choosing an unconventional path, trying lots of new things, going to new places (literally and figuratively), exploring options and tinkering with ideas to find solutions.

  1. Choose a value name that resonates with YOU.

Most people would name the value I identified simply as “adventurous”. However, the word adventurous doesn’t resonate with me. Instead the name “wind in your face” is much more memorable for me as a core value.

  1. Continue the process until you define approx. 5 core values.

Exercise Two: Take a look at your obsessions

Have you ever heard someone say, “All you care about is work,” or “You take on all of your friend’s problems, but you never take care of yourself,” or “You’d miss your own birthday party to go to the gym?” These external observations about your behavior can give you clues about your core values. If “all you do is work,” then one of your core values may be achievement or perseverance. If you take care of those around you, maybe one of your values is loyalty, service or compassion. Accused of being a gym rat? Physical health or opportunities for competition may be one of your values.

Start listening to these comments with curiosity. Can you match up this obsessive behavior to its root cause? That root may hold the key to your values. Start listing them out one by one and then go to #4-6 in Exercise One.

Exercise Three: Think of a time when you were angry or frustrated

Take a look at Exercise One listed above and flip the script. Identify a particularly difficult moment in your life and follow the steps below.

This time we will use the example of Jonathan, a senior leader at a technology firm.

  1. Describe this frustrating moment in detail. If you are working on this exercise alone, write the description. If you are doing this with someone, talk about this moment for 2-3 minutes while the other person takes notes.

Two months ago, Jon was meeting with multiple company department heads. A colleague of higher rank either spoke over Jon when he tried to share his ideas or shot down Jon’s ideas. As Jon grew increasingly frustrated, this higher ranked colleague accused him of being intentionally difficult in front of the group. Jon’s frustration turned into anger, and he sat in silence for the duration of the meeting.

  1. Think about what values you have that were not being honored in this situation.

When examining the scenario detailed above, Jon realized that he felt disrespected, unappreciated, and discounted. He also began to wonder if his ideas weren’t innovative or helpful to the team.

What do these feelings say about Jonathan’s values? He may say that he values respect, appreciation, acknowledgment, innovation, and being a positive contribution to the people in his life.

  1. Pick the values that you’ve identified which are most important to you.  (Remember that your values apply to both your personal and professional worlds.)

When looking at the list he made of values that were compromised in this frustrating scenario, Jonathan identified that he values innovation the most.

  1. Define what the value or values mean to YOU.

To Jonathan, innovation means thinking outside the box, being open to new ideas, offering unique ideas and solutions to any situation, and being distinguished from the pack.

  1. Choose a value name that resonates with YOU.

Jonathan can simply name this value “innovative.” However, he may want to name it “change agent,” or “different from the pack.” The most important thing is that the value resonates with him.

  1. Continue the process until you define approx. 5 core values.

Take note of what values you discover with each exercise you complete. They will be the beginning of your compass for clear decision making at work and home.

Use Your Values as a Toolkit for Decision Making

Use your values as a toolkit

When faced with a decision, use your core values as a tool to guide you. For example, if one of your core values is exploration, and you are being offered the opportunity to transition into a different role within your organization (one which is out of your comfort zone), referring back to this key value will guide your decision.

In my next post, I will provide practical tips for using the knowledge of your values in various leadership situations. Before then, you can refresh your knowledge on what values are and why they are so important here.

If you try any of the exercises listed above, I’d love to hear about how they worked for you. Was it difficult to determine your core values? Did you find it easier than you thought? I’d also love to know if you’ve done any of your own exercises to identify your values that have been successful (or not). Please send me a tweet, leave a comment below, or write me an email.


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