Values – What’s the Point?

Leaders: take the time to clarify your values… Wait — eyes glazing over already?

“I mean,” I hear you say, “I guess they’re important in some big-picture, like, ethical way. But really, what’ll it get me to focus on them?”

Remember the presidential debates? No, not those debates — I’m talking Kerry-Bush in ’04. But they’re all the same; you know the drill — they stand there, all presidential-looking, speaking in somber tones, citing statistics, appealing to fears and doubts, hopes and aspirations. It all feels pretty scripted.

Until something different happens. At the end of the last Kerry-Bush debate, emcee Bob Schieffer threw them a curve ball:

“What role does faith play in your policy decisions?”

Suddenly, it seemed, the entire tone of the debate changed. Suddenly, it became personal. And interestingly, they responded in very similar ways. They both cited their faith as a primary driver of their life path. Bush said he makes policy decisions based on principle, and his faith underlies his principles. Kerry said his Catholic upbringing led him to a life of service.

And it struck me: it’s their values that are ultimately responsible for who these two men are — for why they think, speak and act as they do. I found myself wondering, “How can we begin to know how these men will govern, unless we truly understand the values at their core?

And sure enough, I find that in my executive coaching practice, the people who identify, claim and tap into their core values tend to be more successful, more effective, and more fulfilled.

Even our President — in The Audacity of Hope — gives “Values” an entire chapter.

“It is the language of values that people use to map their world,” he claims. “It is what can inspire them to take action….”

Know it or not, we’re always acting from our values.

Question is: are they conscious? Are they values we’ve chosen, or simply absorbed from our culture, or our parents, or our workplace? We can’t know the answer to those questions until we take the time to uncover and articulate our core values. And then take a hard look at the alignment between them and our behavior. That’s the definition of integrity.

In numerous workshops I’ve led through the Center for Ethical Leadership, I’ve often suggested that your values are your North Star. Pay attention to them, and they keep you on course — with integrity and motivation — to success. Ignore them and, well, as somebody once said, “the great thing about having no direction is that any road will get you there.”

YOUR PATH FORWARD: What are your core values? Take a quick assessment, and then flesh it out by asking yourself:

  • Where in my life am I strongest in embodying these values?
  • What could I be doing to live these values with more integrity?

About the Author

Steve Motenko
Steve Motenko is an executive coach, leadership trainer, and co-host of The Boss Show, a weekly podcast on workplace dynamics. Steve and his Boss Show co-host, Jim Hessler, are co-authors of Land On Your Feet, Not On Your Face: A Guide to Building Your Leadership Platform. Steve lives on Whidbey Island, Washington, with his wife and dog, whom he loves, and a cat he tolerates usually pretty well.

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