Leading in Tough Times: The Values Compass

By ColumnsFOXBusiness

With all of the political and economic unrest in the world, it’s become apparent that the new normal is uncertainty. Whether you are a line supervisor or senior executive, leading during times of uncertainty can be incredibly taxing, especially when it comes to making tough people decisions. The fact is, strong leadership requires a reliable compass that is routed in a clear set of personal values.

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Values are the enduring foundational beliefs bestowed upon you by your surroundings and are the principles and standards that guide your thinking and action. A key component to defining values is understanding that they can be shaped by any number of factors such as upbringing, religion, culture, education and life experiences. The challenge is taking the time to understand how these forces have influenced your values and how these values impact your decision making today.

We all tend to fall back on our values to guide us in making major decisions, particularly when traveling uncharted waters. However, most of the managers and executives I work with can’t articulate their values in a meaningful way. They typically have some general sense of their values, but tend to struggle when pushed to be specific in describing them. As a result, their decisions can be a bit erratic and may often appear to be inconsistent in the eyes of their constituents. It’s as if a magnet has been placed under their decision compass causing it to randomly spin. To combat this, take the time and define your own personal values and then examine the extent to which they truly align with your decision making.

When it comes to values and leadership, former Medtronic CEO and author of True North, Bill George, writes “the values that form the basis for your true north are derived from your beliefs and convictions.” Orienting yourself toward your true north starts with knowing the values that form the foundation of who you are. No one should tell you what your values should be, that’s up to you to decide. A quick Google search will reveal the numerous values assessments out there, most of which are adjective checklists. Examples of values typically included on these lists are autonomy, affluence, family, relationships, and helping. Any of these lists can be helpful as a starting point.

Pick Your Top Five: A good way to get started identifying your goals is to go through any values lists that can be found online and start crossing off all of those values you know would never make it into your top 10. Remember, you may value a lot of things, but the idea here is to consider those things that aren’t necessarily of high value on a consistent basis. After you have cut out the low-value items, go through and pull out those 10 values you believe are genuinely important to you across all circumstances.

Ask Yourself Three Questions: Making lists can be fun and informative, the hard part is narrowing them down. Once you have come up with your list of 10, challenge yourself to narrow that list down to five. To do this, you need to put each of your 10 values to the test. The simplest way to determine if something is truly a personal value is to ask three questions:

*Am I willing to fight for it?

*Am I willing to sacrifice for it?

*Am I willing to pay for?

If you are unwilling to step up and fight, sacrifice, or pay for something, you have to question whether it is truly of value to you. If you find that all of your top 10 values pass the “three question test,” then prioritize your top five. Once you have your top five prioritized, put them in your own words, write them down and then challenge yourself to live them. 

Every successful manager, entrepreneur, and executive that I have ever worked with possesses a high level of self awareness. They have a keen sense of who they are, what they are about, and where they are going. Knowing your values is at the core of knowing yourself. Take the time to set your values compass, so you can lead with confidence and consistency.

Michael “Dr. Woody” Woodward, PhD is a CEC certified executive coach trained in organizational psychology. Dr. Woody is author of The YOU Plan: A 5-step Guide to Taking Charge of Your Career in the New Economy and is the founder of Human Capital Integrated (HCI), a firm focused on management and leadership development. Dr. Woody also sits on the advisory board of the Florida International University Center for Leadership.  

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