CSF 01: Know and Operationalize Your Values: It's Your Compass to Life
How do we navigate our career path and personal lives with choices that lead to meaning, impact, and happiness? Values. It's our flashlight and compass to life.
Each day there are many choices of where to spend your time, how to show up, and situations that will test your soul. Some people will try to influence and confuse you with their agenda and not care about what is important to you. Life can get complicated, and you will walk through the darkness as you contemplate how to make tough choices. The decisions on what career path to pursue and what relationships to strengthen or abandon influence the quality of your life. Values are your flashlight and compass to guide you down personal and professional paths. Internalizing your values will calibrate your compass and trigger emotions of joy or frustration as a feedback signal. Staying the course for what you believe in will be tested. You will live your best life when you practice the behaviors that reinforce the essence of a value. People will respect you when they know your actions align with your beliefs. Daily choices become efficient and authoritative when values are crystallized in our minds. Know your values and seek people and organizations that reinforce your deepest beliefs.
What Are Values?
A value is a commonplace term but a definition will clarify its purpose and how we use it as a compass to guide our life.
In her book, Dare to Lead, Brene’ Brown shares a simple definition:
“A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important”
“Living into our values means that we do more than progress our values, we practice them. We walk our talk – we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.”
Source: Dare to Lead by Brene’ Brown
Learning the Role of Values in the Workplace
It was the fall of 2007, and after a year at Microsoft, I was selected to participate in a High Potential program – the top 3% of each organization within the company. I was lucky to be chosen as part of this group to go on a two-year journey together. This program opened up my perspective on the process and ideas for developing your career and the responsibilities of a leader to develop talent in an organization. It forever shapes who I am and explains why I coach people and view talent as the top responsibility of a leader.
At the orientation, we were introduced to a three-phased approach to personal development: looking inward, looking outward, and looking forward. It became clear that to become a great leader at Microsoft; you must deeply understand yourself and lead with that unique conviction. This journey began “looking inward” and would take us through exercises to discover our style and preferences. One of the first exercises was to select 3-5 values that were important to us. The beliefs that would guide us professionally and personally. The card deck in the photo above is what we used to explore and select our most prized values. These would represent the pillars of our beliefs. Guide us on how we would show up and use them to make the tough choices. The values would stand the test of time.
During the workshop, I selected six values: health, commitment, family, integrity, excellence, and discipline. These beliefs served me well over the years, and I would refer to them often. The health value guided the choice to hit the gym at 6 am before the work day. The commitment value was how I would engage and deliver tasks and projects. The family value shaped having dinner together each night and guiding choices that put my family first. The integrity value influenced my leadership style, knowing that I would be unable to recruit, develop, and empower people to do great work if I exhibited unethical or self-serving behaviors. The excellence and discipline values infused my mind to deliver the highest quality of work and persevere and focus on delivering the goods. These values became so ingrained into my bones after many years of practice.
In my experience, most people have not gone through the exercise of identifying the unique set of values they hold most important to them. Microsoft is the only company I have worked for that invested in taking leaders to “look deep within” before charting a career strategy to roles with increasingly higher levels of responsibility. This experience set the foundation for integrating values into my habits and professional brand and shaping my life's most significant non-work decision.
Deriving Your Values
Getting specific and clear on how we live these values will serve as guardrails to keep us on our path. I read the “Living into Our Values” chapter in Dare to Lead a few months ago and was challenged to reduce my value list from six to two. Brene’ Brown describes: “My two core values are where all of the “second tier” values are tested.”
As I thought about my original list of six, they all still hold in what guides me today. The exercise derived a first-tier value of “leadership.” A leader in the workplace develops people and models excellence, discipline, and integrity—a leader for my kids to guide them and demonstrate the commitment and perseverance to grind over the long haul. I could not earn the trust to lead a team without commitment, integrity, excellence, discipline, and caring for their well-being (health).
But something was missing from my values list. My never-ending curiosity is a big part of who I am – to learn, travel, meet interesting people, and explore the frontier. The desire to learn from my failures and expand and adapt competencies throughout my career shaped my direction. This value of curiosity to learn was instilled in me at an early age by my mother. I still remember doing quizzes and flashcards with her in elementary school and seeing her at the kitchen table working on a Ph.D. dissertation in her late 50s. My curiosity to learn influenced my pursuit of three degrees and to teach graduate students and professionals. I arrived at two core values that serve as my compass – leadership and curiosity [see my example].
Living Your Values
Internalizing your values will be an essential utility in your toolbelt when life gets hard – crucial conversations, a loss or failure, or a life-changing decision. Sometimes, these are split-second decisions when your values are deep within your heart and bones. In other cases, it will be thinking slowly about what’s most important to you and making the call. As I think back throughout my life, I am reminded of how values played a role in making decisions about work and life.
I chose to work at Microsoft because it was an excellent opportunity to learn, experience a culture of excellence, and grow in an organization that showed its commitment to its employees. Simply put, our values aligned. I have also worked in organizations that articulated noble values, but the reality was a culture that did not exhibit the expected behaviors. These integrity issues were warning signs of a culture that was not brave enough to stand behind what it believed. I think back to situations of conflict between corporate culture and my values. I experienced less energy and lower performance from a few jobs when I only stayed for the money. I knew it was not suitable or sustainable. I could feel the physical change in my body and soul when I transitioned to a new job where our values aligned. Before joining an organization, review its written values and speak to people to confirm that the culture aligns with its stated values. Company culture can infuse you with energy or deplete your heart and soul. Aligning your values with organizational values is one of the most critical choices for accelerating your growth and impact.
Who we share our life with - a partner, friends, and family - profoundly influences our personal lives and our performance in the workplace. Shared values are what generally bond people together. The hardest decision of my life was a values-based choice to end my marriage after 20+ years. It would change the lives of seven people forever. There was no margin for error, given the consequences. It was a gut-wrenching choice and would take years to adapt to. At the core was a conflict of values.
My commitment to my family is what drives me and what I place as the highest priority in my life. As a kid, I grew up living with one parent, and a strong, healthy family is what I wanted more than anything. But my marriage was driving deep depression and anxiety and impacting my professional work. It was a weight that grew slowly over time as I hid these challenges from family, friends, and work colleagues. At a crossroads, both paths looked hard and full of darkness.
Given that values rarely change, I knew what staying the course had in store for me. Starting a new life after 20+ years was full of challenges, but it would restore my spirit to living values without compromises. The value-based decision also catalyzed growth and happiness for my whole family, and we are all in a better spot.
It’s not easy to share this personal story, but it’s evidence that operating at your true potential requires practicing behaviors that reinforce your beliefs. Living your values fuels our mojo, our zone of genius, and our courage to walk down the more complicated and darker paths with curiosity.
Leverage the recommended actions and external resources below to embrace living your values. It can be as easy as reviewing a list or stack of value cards as I did in 2007.
1 – Name your values.
Your values transcend your work and personal life – there is only one list.
Explore a list of values to open up your mind. [use the Living Into Our Values worksheet and podcast as a guide]
Identify those values that are non-negotiables that you hold most dearly in your life.
Reduce the list to two values that resonate deep inside you.
2 – Translate values from ideas to behaviors.
A list of values without understanding how they are demonstrated is useless.
For each value, write down 3-5 specific, observable behaviors – the actions we profess to demonstrate that bring credibility as a practitioner.
Sense and acknowledge what it feels like when you are living your values.
3 – Stay strong and stand by your values.
Identify a few people who know your values and will be there to share empathy for staying true to these during the hard times.
Write down your actions to demonstrate self-compassion while living your values.
Consider a recent time you were living into your values – what were you doing? What did it feel like?
Embrace with confidence that your values will navigate you through the darkness to a place that brings out the best in you.
Resist the temptation to bend your values - it will return to haunt you.
Make your values visible - a printout that serves as a reminder of what you signed up for.
4 – Acknowledge your current behaviors that do not align with your values.
Look in the mirror and realize you don’t consistently deliver on your promise to honor your values.
Write down a list of specific examples and behaviors where you infringed on your values.
When living outside our values, write down the early warning signs – the “slippery behaviors” (as described by Brene’ Brown).
Write down what you will change – a habit, the people you spend time with, etc. – to mitigate or eliminate its re-occurrence.
5 – Engage with people and environments that reinforce your values.
Know who to take on the journey as your partner - confirm your values align.
Join organizations that demonstrate a culture and values that align with yours.
Leave organizations when leaders and the culture differ from their stated values.
Experiment With This
Add personal values to your resume – this will convey to others who you are, what guides your decisions, and how you show up.
Print out a document of your values and demonstrated behaviors that you can read daily. What will you do today as a small contribution to your value bank account?
Share your values with work colleagues to open up a dialogue on why these are important and how you can best work together, and inspire them to do the same.
Before joining an organization, ask the leadership for their firm’s values and expected behaviors. You want to align your and the organization's values for mutual success.
Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene’ Brown
Dare to Lead List of Values – Dare to Lead Hub by Brene’ Brown
Living Into Our Values Worksheet by Brene Brown
Living Into Our Values podcast with Brene’ Brown & Barrett Guillen
Dare to Lead List of Behaviors – Dare to Lead Hub by Brene’ Brown
Dare to Lead Operationalizing Values Example
James Clear – Core Values List
Let Your Values Drive Your Choices by James Clear
Values vs. Beliefs by Tony Robbins
True North: Leading Authentically in Today’s Workplace, Emerging Leader by Bill George and Zach Clayton (Chapter 5 – Live Your Values)