How Values and Purpose Create Better Leaders: Your Values in Action

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It’s vitally important that leaders identify and use their values in all aspects of their lives. Why? Because values give us a sense of purpose, and help guide us in organizational decision-making. You can review the definition and importance of values here.

Deciding to lead with values is only the first step. Next comes the process of identifying your core values. There are some exercises to help you do this in my last piece. Once you feel confident that you’ve identified some of your core values, it’s time to put them into practice.

In this post, I will provide three practical tips and answer three common questions I receive from leaders as they begin to practice incorporating their values into their leadership.

Practical tips for practicing values-based leadership

Tip One: Before making a decision, follow these five steps:

  1. First, review your list of values. For this exercise, it is best to have your values written down.
  2. Then, ask yourself this question about the value you have listed as number one: “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how well does the perceived outcome of this decision or opportunity align with value number one?” Then write down the number.
  3. Ask the same question about each value on your list.
  4. After you’ve rated the perceived outcome of this decision or opportunity for each of your core values, add the numbers up and find the average.
  5. Lastly, evaluate the score. Your aim is to get a score of seven or higher on average. If you score below seven, the decision or opportunity may not align enough with your values to be considered.

Tip Two: Check in on your values daily

Ideally, you should “check in” on your values daily. (If daily feels like too much, try weekly.) Personally, I do this on the way home from work. I ask myself, “how well did my decisions and behavior align with value #1 today?” This takes only two minutes yet provides you with a good sense of what to improve the next day. It keeps you focused and in touch with what is important to you.

Tip Three: Purposefully remind yourself of your values

It’s important to have a visual reminder of your values, in addition to your list of values. This keeps them front and center in your mind. Here are some easy ways to remind yourself of your values on a regular basis:

  • Create a screensaver.

  • Don’t underestimate the power of a post-it.

  • Find a picture that represents one of your values and keep it somewhere you will see it daily.

  • Choose a song to represent one or more of your values and listen to it once a day as part of your morning, afternoon, or evening ritual.

Now that you have some practical ways to integrate your values into your life and leadership—let’s take a look at common leadership questions I receive with regard to values.

Q&A: Common leadership questions regarding the use of values

Q: A leader has to cut staff in a tight-knit team. Can values influence how the decision is handled?

A: Absolutely! For example, let’s say integrity is a core value to the leader who has to reduce head-count. The leader would then ask herself, “How do I let someone go with integrity?” The outcome of the layoffs will certainly be different having considered this value before acting.

Q: Company morale is low and company culture has become competitive, secretive and negative. How can a leader turn to his values to get the culture back on track?

A: In this scenario, the leader needs to look more toward organizational values than personal values. First, the leader has to review the organizational values with the team. One great way to structure this conversation is to ask similar questions as mentioned in tip number one above. For example: “Our company’s number one value is innovation. How well are we doing with innovation right now?” Then, move on to the second value and ask a similar question. After posing the question, the leader should listen as the dialogue develops. The conversation has the potential to realign the team’s vision and goals with great insights revealed.

Q: You are working in a close partnership with another leader who has a differing set of values. What is the best way to manage the partnership?

A: Unfortunately, this is a situation that happens often. The bottom line here is to discuss values openly and work to negotiate the difference. Here’s how:

  1. First, identify what values seem to differ between you.

  2. Then, decide how strong those values are for yourself, and for your partner. If the value that you differ on is not a value that one or both of you feel strongly about, you will have more wiggle room.

  3. When starting the conversation, the topic can be phrased like this: “Since I value adventure, I would approach this M&A opportunity with excitement. How would you approach it?”

  4. Once the partner answers that question, it should be easy to identify the gap between approaches. For example, the partner could say, “I value security and need time to assess the safety of the M&A on the table.”

  5. Having both stated your values and their subsequent influence on reactions to the situation at hand, it will be possible to identify the gap and negotiate. The partner who is adventurous can face the decision with more caution than normal, and the partner who values security can allow a little space for risk.

  6. It is important to note that in this scenario, a lot of communication, open-ended questions and listening will be needed. Also, keep in mind how diverse perceptions can influence values. This diversity can even be generational.

Have any of your own questions you’d like to run by me? Feel free to ask questions in the comment section below.

I’d like to wrap up this series by sharing how writing about values-based leadership actually aligns with my values. First, this topic is not your usual leadership blog topic; it’s much riskier than say, writing about productivity! In this way, my “wind in your face” value of adventure was honored. Another one of my values is called “toy box”, which means laughter and the ability to have fun. I met this value by staying away from dry research and making it a fun piece for you to read. Lastly, I have a value called “cherry pie,” which represents deep relationships that may be tart, sweet, gooey, messy, bubbly, and diverse all at the same time. By revealing my core values to my readers, I increased my vulnerability, which will likely lead to deeper relationships.

Discussing values is very interesting and often satisfying. I’d love to hear about your values, how they’ve been put to the test, and how they’ve led you through tough decisions. Feel free to email me, tell me on Twitter, or leave a comment below.

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