If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything. ~Malcom X
I once had a colleague in the thick of a difficult project where teams were struggling to meet unrealistic expectations established by Senior Management after some hokey negotiating with the Project Management team. The project was in desperate need of transparent communication to Senior Management, the type of communication synonymous with strong leadership, the type of communication ripe with personal risk because sometimes they do shoot the messenger.
Being transparent with Management was the right thing to do for the people on the project, the project, and the company. My colleague told me they were not going to do the right thing at the risk of losing their job. I walked away thinking, when you are a leader doing the right thing is your job. This conversation, more than any of our before and after interactions, exposed our polar opposite core values.
What are Core Values?
Core Values are inner principles that dictate exterior behaviors, exterior actions. They are personal beliefs governing decisions made. No matter what a person claims as their core values, actions over time will either confirm or deny their assertions. Core values can change over time as a result of learning and experiences but these are typically evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes.
Why Identify (and Write Down) Core Values?
Identifying core values is an introspective process, a growth process. I firmly believe a leader that ceases growing is a leader that is rapidly losing effectiveness, a leader that has abdicated their contract with the people, a leader that should not be leading.
Having a solid understanding of what drives a leader will help that leader identify a position where they can be most effective. If a personal core value is having a huge salary then it probably wouldn’t make sense to lead at a church with a core value of sacrificially serving the needs of the poor.
Studies have shown (ex: Gail Matthews at Dominican University) those who write down their goals accomplish significantly more than those that don’t write them down. This is partly because the physical act of writing has shown to be superior for remembering conceptual information over the long term, partly because writing them down makes them tangible, partly because having written goals in a place where they can be seen on a regular basis keeps them closer to the forefront of the mind. Core Values can be likened to goals so it works for them too.
I began tracking my Core Values, several years ago when I created the leadership course that I use for the leadership training classes I teach. For my training to be authentic and come across as authentic, I had to craft the content around my Core Values. To espouse actions in which I did not believe would come across as hypocritical in my training. My core value of integrity won’t allow me to preach something I don’t believe.
I had a sense of my core values based on the decisions I made during the 20+ years of my adult life but, if pressed, I was not able to articulate them. I underwent a process to help me put them into words. The outcome was a list of 3 values with some clarifying sub values.
- Integrity (Honesty, Transparency, Trust, Candor)
- Respect for Others (Concern for Others, Individuality, Connection, Cultural Fluency)
- Personal Growth (Commitment, Leadership, Knowledge, Max Utilization of Time)
I share my core values with my students and highly encourage them to work through the process to understand theirs. By sharing, I maintain a degree of accountability which helps me stay aligned in those moments of weakness.
During my most recent job search, I used my written core values to craft questions to help determine if my values aligned with the hiring organization’s values. I have a core value of valuing others for their individuality. It was important for me to find a company with a diverse demographic of employees because it indicates to me they value a wide array of perspectives.
My working group in the company I came from was composed primarily of middle-aged white guys from the suburbs. My current company has a much wider and more evenly distributed age band with a significant female populace, people from a variety of countries, people living in both suburban and urban environs.
Not only do I enjoy this diversity, studies have shown diverse perspectives during product development result in a much better product for the end user. Working with diverse groups is also in alignment with my value of being culturally fluent.
My actions are not perfectly aligned. There are times when I veg out in front of the TV instead of reading which impinges on my Personal Growth by Max Utilization of Time. However, while living in India, I opted to not have TV in my flat to ensure it wasn’t a distraction. My actions are trending in a positive direction of alignment which I ascribe to going through the Core Value identification process.