Knowing your values in leadership will help you in many ways. However, I speak to leaders frequently and I notice that a lot of them don’t take the time to do this.
Some leaders aren’t aware of how knowing their values will help them. Others are focused on other priorities, like trying to get their team working well together.
And then there are those that may consider understanding their values in leadership to be too “hippie” or “woo woo” to worry about.
In this article, I’m going to cover why I think understanding your values is important.
Of course, I’ll also look into some ways that they can help you and how you can find out what they are. After all, I’m quite pragmatic. I don’t really like theory without being able to apply it somehow!
Maslow’s Hierarchy When It Comes to Knowing Your Values In Leadership
You may have come across Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs during your career. The basic idea is that there are several levels of needs we have as humans.
Once you accomplish the lower-level needs (such as survival needs), we start to focus on fulfilling the needs higher up, such as achieving belonging, respect and other social needs.
From a leadership perspective, I like to think of this hierarchy like the one below.
We often start our leadership journey being uncertain about our leadership role and how to do it (surviving).
We might even let team conflict or other dysfunction slide, because we’re so consumed about keeping our jobs and getting paid.
As we become more confident and our leadership skills grow, we work our way up the pyramid. No longer focused on survival, our priorities can shift to wanting to create a positive environment, and helping our team members achieve their own goals.
Eventually, we gain respect and start to feel valued, and then we start to want to enjoy our work and keep on improving our leadership skills to excel at our craft.
This model is not perfect, but I think it’s useful to consider from a values perspective. If a leader is in “survive” mode, do you think they are going to spend time thinking about their core values?
But as you go higher up the levels, you might find that you’re starting to focus on improving your leadership. Not as a means to just survive, but as a means to be a better leader and feel good about what you do.
Knowing your values can help at all levels, in my opinion. But it’s at the love, respect and self-actualisation levels that I start to see leaders focusing on these types of personal development steps the most.
That’s Cool, But What Are Values Anyway?
Ethics Sage says that values are basic and fundamental beliefs that guide or motivate attitudes or actions.
These are the things that you believe are important at your core, and they can be shaped by your environment and upbringing as you go through life. They help us to decide what is right and wrong.
However, values can be different for everybody. There is no single best set of values that everyone should strive to live by.
This is just as well, because not every role or environment is suitable for every person. Our values can help you survive and thrive in different environments. They can provide clarity when you notice yourself struggling or succeeding in different situations.
So now, let’s get onto how knowing your values in leadership can help you.
Learn More: 4 Types of Motivation to Look For In Your Team.
How Knowing Your Values In Leadership Can Help You
There are a few good ways that knowing your values can help you in your leadership role. Here are the ones that I think are most important.
1. Values Help You Understand Your Triggers
Everyone has triggers. These are the things that can set you off, make you angry or upset, or have you doing things you normally wouldn’t (and don’t want to) do.
Our triggers often come about because they clash with our values.
One of my own values is that of responsibility. This value is all about being dependable, reliable and taking accountability for my own challenges and problems.
So when I come across people who are stuck in a victim mindset, blaming the world for their problems, this can be extremely frustrating for me. As a result, I try not to associate with these types of people too much. The ones who are all-complaining but no action.
On the other hand, when I work with coaching clients who are taking accountability for their own life and trying to improve, I’m all in and I’ll help them however I can!
Knowing your values helps you to understand and raise awareness of your triggers. This might be people doing things that trigger you, or circumstances that stress you out.
Once you know your values, you can:
- Work to reduce the impact of triggers. This might be about reducing the time spent being exposed to the trigger, or practicing visualisation techniques to help you respond constructively when your trigger happens. For example, if you need to attend meetings with somebody who triggers you!
- Avoid the trigger altogether. Choosing who you associate with, which roles you take or organisations you work for can be a great way to avoid being triggered as much as possible.
Stop being triggered. Understand your values and set yourself up for success!
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #153: Why Knowing Yourself Equals Better Leadership.
2. Values Help You Play to Your Strengths
Your values are a source of strength.
When you are acting in alignment with your values, you will feel more motivated, more confident and certain of the actions you are taking.
You can use this to your advantage.
Here’s another example from my own experience. One of my other strong values is harmony. This one means that I value a sense of calm, inner peace and contentment.
I’ve noticed that the thing that conflicts with this the most is taking on too much work. As a result, I try (as best I can) to organise my weeks so that I’m not rushing from one thing to another.
I try not to take on too many coaching or training clients at once, and I spread them out so that I’m not fully booked all the time.
When I’m running from one thing to another, I have a tendency to feel more stressed and anxious. When I’m working in this state, I’m generally doing a worse job for the people I’m working for.
On the other hand, when I’m calm and at ease, that’s when I can do my best work.
Learn More: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #76: Why Leaders Should Focus On Workplace Wellbeing.
3. Values Help You to Build Strong Relationships
Once you understand your values, you can use these to build strong relationships in the workplace.
You will understand your triggers, so you can try to limit your association with people that trigger you.
You can also be open and honest about your values, letting people know what really matters to you. This means they can work with you the way you want them to, and they can try to bring out your strengths whenever possible.
When you talk about yourself and what’s important to you, emphasise the strengths that come from your values. Do you Value being dependable and reliable? That’s a pretty good leadership attribute to talk about.
Value empathy? Talk about how this helps you to build a great culture in your team.
When people understand what makes you “tick”, you’re likely to build a stronger bond with those that resonate with your own values. These workplace relationships can be extremely valuable to support you in your leadership journey.
Learn More: How Leaders Can Build Strong Working Relationships.
4. Values Help You to Find the Right Role and Culture Fit
Many of us like to believe that we can succeed in any leadership role or in any organisation. The reality is that we are better suited to some roles and cultures than others.
Most organisations have a list of values that they believe represent their desired culture. These can be useful when you’re trying to get people to behave in a certain way, and the values can be held up as the benchmark.
If your personal values happen to align closely with those of your organisation, you’re likely to feel like you fit in better with the culture than someone whose values differ greatly.
Think of the leader who is a fierce environmental advocate. If they work for a mining company that is not so concerned about their environmental impact, this leader is likely to feel conflicted.
If, on the other hand they work for some sort of conservation organisation, they may feel like their values are a better fit. They can feel satisfied that they aren’t working for a cause that clashes with their values.
If you’re looking for a new role, check the values of the organisation. Try to see whether they align with yours. Ask good questions during your interviews to see whether people “walk the talk”, or if those values are just lip-service!
How You Can Understand Your Own Core Values
Now that we’ve looked at some of the benefits of knowing our values, it’s time to find out what they are.
This doesn’t need to be a complex task, but it can take time to refine your values list.
Sometimes I work with people using a set of values cards. These are usually simple cards with a value on the front and a description of what it means or how to apply it on the back.
The set of cards that I use (Note: I don’t get any money from recommending these and am not affiliated with them) is the Live Your Values Deck.
These have a description of the value on the front, and also some ideas on how you can live this value more often on the back.
If you’d like to see a simple list of values instead and not worry about getting cards, then here are a few good options:
How to Pick Your Values
Take a look at the different values and decide which ones (usually the top 5) resonate with you the most. This can be challenging because there are often many that you’d like to pick.
The key is to identify the most critical values that you hold dear or are most important to you.
One important thing to note is that you should identify values based on how you are, not how you would like to be.
That’s not to say you can’t ever change, but it’s best to know where you’re starting from and work from there.
If you’re struggling, try to think of moments in your life where you have had success and failure. In these moments, what made you succeed or fail?
Often you’ll find that in your winning moments, you were acting in line with your values. In your darkest moments, your environment, situation or actions were probably out of alignment with your core values.
Identify Your Values, Then Sit With Them For a While
After you spend the time to identify your values, you’ll have a simple list (no more than five though!).
Over the next few weeks, see what you notice.
Are there times when you’re not aligned with these values? Or times when you’re completely living them?
How do you feel when you’re in or out of alignment with your values in leadership?
Over time, you’ll be able to test out your list of values and make sure they are the right ones. You’ll be able to feel how well they fit you as you go through your day to day life and reflect.
Once you clearly understand your values, see if you can live them more often. The more you can bring them to the table, the better you’ll feel, and the more confident you’ll be.
What are your core values and how has knowing them helped you? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!
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