Earlier this year, I decided that I wanted to actively pursue a career path in people leadership. I believe that I have a natural talent for people and communication skills, but leading and managing people is a separate skillset. I wanted to be sure that I was taking intentional steps to work on those skills. The very first exercise I did after deciding to pursue this career path was to define my core values.
Core values allow you to clearly define and name what you believe to be most important. They give you a mechanism for evaluating your decisions and for identifying thoughts and behaviors that align with your beliefs. It’s no wonder that nearly every company you’ll work for in your career emphasizes their core values.
In the context of a company’s core values, identifying 3-5 principles guides the team’s decisions and actions and unites everyone under a common set of expectations. Using company values to make decisions can help to keep everyone aligned on the direction the company is headed and how it’s getting there.
Personal values aren’t that much different. Although they won’t be used to unite many different individuals’ decision-making process, explicitly naming your core values gives you more confidence and clarity in everything you do. Having a set of core values makes it easier to talk about what’s important to you. It can also help you achieve your goals by increasing your awareness of what motivates you and where you find fulfillment. You can always realign and course-correct your path to match your values and get you to your goals in the most fulfilling way possible.
In the context of leadership, identifying core values helps your team better understand you and your priorities, decisions, and actions. It can help set expectations around management and communication by explicitly defining what’s important and what takes precedence. It helps your team find meaning in everything you do.
Brené Brown defines one of the fundamental skill sets of leadership as “Living into Our Values” and in her book, Dare to Lead, recommends identifying 2 core values. By forcing yourself to only choose 2, you have to take time being extremely clear on what guides you and what you believe is most important. In Dare to Lead, Brown outlines 3 questions to help you identify your values, and I find them extremely helpful.
- Does this define me?
- Is this who I am at my best?
- Is this a filter I use to make hard decisions?
When I went through this exercise, I used a process of elimination to find what was truly most important to me. It ultimately took me 6 rounds of elimination, starting from 25 values to get to my final 2 values. My core values are Honesty and Compassion. Of the initial 25 values I started with, nearly all of them could be distilled down to these two.
Defining my core values has been more beneficial than I imagined it would be. What I initially thought of as an interesting thought exercise has added color to both my professional and personal life. I share my core values with my team and work every day to act in alignment with them. During my first 1:1 with a new team member, we talk about our values and get to know what the other feels is important in their professional life. During difficult conversations, my team and I have more trust because we know what the other values and how they made the decisions they did.
Whether you’re in a leadership position or not, I highly recommend taking the time to identify your top 2 core values and sharing them with those around you. I think you’ll find the clarity it gives you in your decision making and goal setting to be extremely valuable (see what I did there? 😏).