Guiding the Way You Lead: Your Values

What are values?

Values are the very root of our existence and are the guidepost to our interactions, relationships, decisions, and behavior. Most of us, off the top of our heads, don’t know what our values are and are not intentional about living out of our values.

Regardless if we know them or not, we live from them. We often don’t take the time to understand them, how we acquired them, or be intentional about leveraging them to guide the way we lead. Without this, we risk leaving a wake of employees who may create unintentional stories about our behavior, trying to fill in the gaps.

We often talk about the importance of leaders to close the gap between their values and their actions to help align and focus the organization. As a leader, it is incredibly important to be intentional about identifying our values, aligning our actions and decisions around our values, and communicating our values to those we lead.

Types of Values

There are three types of values:

  • Instilled Values: these values often come from our culture, our heritage and our way of life. For example, for someone born in the US, a person may have a strong value around freedom and justice.
  • Adopted Values: these values are formed through life experiences. For example, if a person was raised in a farm, a value of work ethic might be inspired. Or, if a person was raised by a missionary, a value around faith may exist.
  • Intentional Values: these are intentionally set to lead, parent, and live. These are the least established values because they require a leader to pause and to focus on what is most important to them and the legacy they want to leave. For example, after careful contemplation, a CEO of a hospital I was working with decided to adopt the value of gratitude. He decided that in order to become the premier hospital where people wanted to work, he needed gratitude of his leadership team, employees, physicians, and board to be at the root of his interactions. Once intentionally focused on this, he found is that this value became a way of life for his family and friends as well.
Your Personal Core Values

As a leader, it is crucial to be aware and intentional about understanding and setting your values.  To help you do this, I suggest the following steps to value discovery and alignment:

  1. Reflect upon your past and how you grew up. Make a list of all the values that you think made you who you are today. Those that you like and those that you don’t.
  2. Out of this list, circle the ones that you are think are most important to your life now and you want to continue to shape your future. Consider releasing any values that were important early in life that may get in the way of where you want to go.
  3. Next, create a list of all possible values that you can think of. There are lists online if you need help. Combine this with the values you circled earlier and narrow your core values to five. Yes, you may have 50, but it is incredibly important to focus on the ones that are most important to you.
  4. Take those five and identify behaviors that you want to exhibit that align with the values.
  5. Use those values as a litmus test for your decision making. Sometimes there will be values that may be in conflict. For example, the values of family and work ethic. For those values, it is important to be able to see the disconnect and make the decision or action on a case by case basis, working through the disconnect.
  6. Communicate those values to those that work with you. Let people know so that they get to know what is important to you. I often say that a primary job of a leader is to teach others how to work with them. That is how you build trust, consistency, and commitment.

Values are core to your essence as a leader.  Taking the time to identify, align your behaviors, communicate and live from your values is well worth the effort.

Cheryl Foss
About the author

Cheryl Foss, a MEDI Executive Coach, has over 20 years of Leadership Development, Team Development, Strategy Development, Organization Design, and Change Management experience.
Begin the Conversation
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.