As a leader, what are your core values? Have you ever spent time sitting down and defining the core values you live out of every day? If the answer is “no,” the odds are that your behavior isn’t as consistent as it could be … and if your behavior isn’t consistent, neither will be the behaviors of the people you lead.
Our core values are the “soul” of who we are. They form part of the belief system that guides our behaviors every day. Stephen R. Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, states, “You are a disciple, a follower, of your own deep values and their source. And you have the will, the integrity, to subordinate your feelings, your impulses, and your moods to those values.” The corollary to that statement is that if you do not know what your core values are, then your feelings, impulses, and moods will often drive your behaviors – to the detriment of your effectiveness as a leader.
Therefore, if you expect your followers to behave in certain ways and to live out a certain set of values and principles, that is what you as a leader need to model. James M. Kouzes, author of The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, affirms, “Before you can be a leader of others, you need to know clearly who you are and what your core values are. Once you know that, then you can give your voice to those values and feel comfortable sharing them with others.”
If you are not sure what your core values really are, consider these three key characteristics:
- Core values are universal. No matter what context you find yourself in, your core values remain consistent. That includes one-on-one meetings and townhalls, work and home, community and office. Everywhere you go, your core values go with you.
- Core values are nonnegotiable. Because core values are universal, you carry them with you. Because they are nonnegotiable, you stand on them wherever you are. You refuse to behave in ways that are inconsistent with those values, regardless of the cost.
- Core values are clarifying. All aspects of your life are assessed in terms of your core values, such as where you work, how you work, who your friends are, how you interact with others, and what your goals are. Your core values are the standard against which everything else in life is measured.
A shining example of someone with well-defined core values is an accounts payable manager we know who processes credit card statements each month for the executives in the company. Almost every month, some person attempts to put a charge through on their expense report that is outside company policy. Sometimes this is the result of an honest mistake. Sometimes it is an attempt to bend the rules a bit. And sometimes it is absolutely off the wall, such as when an executive wanted to charge off her entire family’s week-long vacation in Hawaii as an expense because she made a few business calls while catching rays on the beach.
In each instance, the accounts payable manager flags the inappropriate charge and declines payment. He catches a lot of flack for that from executives who think they are entitled to special “perks,” but he stands firm. He states clearly, “My core value is that I will be a good steward of company resources.” This core value is universal – it goes with him to the office every day. It is nonnegotiable – even in the face of angry executives. It is clarifying – it is how he defines his fiduciary responsibility to the company.
And what about the people who try to slip personal charges through on expense reports? Well, their actions say something about their core values, too. Because, again, core values are the soul of who you are. They are universal, nonnegotiable, and clarifying. With that in mind, it is worthwhile to know what is at your core … there is a lot riding on what you truly value.
Set aside time in your schedule: no meetings, no calls, no email, no chat. Ask yourself, “What are the five to seven core values that I live by every day?”