Go Beyond Crafting a Mission Statement and Actually Live Out Your Beliefs: Years ago, I launched upon a journey from being a typical “Type A” CEO to becoming a more dedicated father, a more effective leader, and an overall better human being. During this pilgrimage of self-discovery, I came to the bitter realization that, while I had helped the companies I ran to develop core values for many years, I had never actually developed any values of my own — as in, ones that I lived by, not my company or employees.
And that was a problem.
As business leaders, we know what values are: They are the set of fundamental, strategically sound beliefs about your company and how it should operate. But how do those differ from your personal values? Do you know what your personal values are?
Put simply, they are your guideposts for right living, right action, and forward motion. In my experience, they’ve made me and many of my clients more effective leaders. So, to become the leader that you want to be, you must first define these values and then apply them to your life.
What are Core Values, and Why are They Important to My Business?
This may seem unconventional, but let’s start with what core values are not:
Core values aren’t who or your company wants to be. They represent who you are today – right in this moment!
I realize it seems passé for companies to talk about their “core values,” but most don’t take the time to clearly define them. Thus, businesses create what they think are “core values,” but they’ve merely assembled a list of traits that reflect who they think they want to be or how they want to be viewed.
At best, these traits are vaguely aspirational and don’t involve any real follow-through or action on the part of the company. At worst, they’re propaganda that delivers false hope about what the company could be in the distant future. Unfortunately, too many companies live, act, and conduct business quite differently from their proclamations.
Combined with those unrealized values, this becomes the definition of rank hypocrisy on the part of your company’s leadership. Not only will such actions turn off team members and clients, but they will also create a chasm of credibility between leadership and the team.
Hence, I believe you should set real core values for yourself and your company. I define core values as the rules your company lives by – the ones it actually practices – rather than a mere mission statement. The clearer and more deliberate you are with them, the better it will be for your personal development and the culture of your company. They make the path from good to great much simpler and more straightforward.
Your Core Values v. Your Company Values
Setting firm core values for your company will involve your top leadership, board, and investors, but your journey to discover the core values that embody who you are will be deeply personal. You discover them only by coming to an understanding about who you are at an elemental level, and this occurs only as a result of deep soul searching. Hence, I cannot define them for you, but I can give you tips on how to set off on your own journey.
As you might imagine, your deep personal values and the values of your company are vastly different. Personal core values are the rules by which you conduct yourself at all times – no matter what. Company values are the rules your company lives by when dealing with one another, clients, partners, and the world around them. As in, these are the behaviors employees must display while working.
When I teach companies how to develop core values, I use the classic exercise “Mission to Mars” developed by Jim Collins:
Pretend you have to provide five team members from your company to go to Mars and be observed by Martians.
The Martians want to observe what most accurately illustrates your company’s culture.
They especially want to see that which is right, best, and noble about your culture.
Since the Martians cannot speak or understand human language, your team members can only communicate by living out your Core Values. No verbal communication allowed.
With this exercise, your goal is to identify which of your people best represents the organization. These individuals should have the truest understanding of your company and be able to display those principles accordingly.
I encourage leaders not to select people based solely on performance, since your highest performers aren’t necessarily representative of your culture. Instead, look for people who command the highest level of competency and respect from others. There are your employees who you best serve as a slice of your company’s DNA.
Strong Leaders Need Strong Core Values
As leaders, we’ve all probably heard from top coaches or read in leadership books that, if we’re having a bad day, we shouldn’t show it too often. Our employees are constantly watching us, so we have to be on top of our game, no matter how we really feel. And you’ve most likely asked yourself: Am I smiling? Do I look happy? Do I look annoyed?
I want you to flip those questions on their head.
Rather than worrying about what we should not do, we should instead focus on what we should do. This challenge goes back to having your own personal core values. When you define your values and enact them, they dictate how you react to life in general. Thus, they will override any “bad day” you might have, and your employees will react positively instead of negatively to your actions. This way, you show employees your true self – not some stoic façade. Ultimately, employees will take notice, and that’s what will make you a better leader and your organization more effective.
The Journey to Discover Your Personal Core Values
As stated above, I can’t take you on your journey, so I want to share my story of how I discovered my personal core values. My hope is that it can serve as a launchpad into determining yours. In short, I adapted the “Mission to Mars” exercise by asking myself the following questions:
What are my values that display a true understanding of who I am and how I should act?
What are the related characteristics of those values?
Why are they so good?
What do they bring to me and others regardless if I am recognized for living them?
Do these resonate with me? Are they real?
Am I passionate about them?
I sat with my list of drafted values for a few weeks determining which would best support me on my journey. My initial list was around 12, but I eventually landed on six, and they’ve been the foundation of my life ever since.
My Personal Core Values
- Trust: Trust is the foundation of every relationship, whether personal or professional. It’s also the foundation of my relationship with myself.
- Kind Truth: This is the ability to speak my truth to others, especially when wrapped in kindness. It’s how I can get through the most difficult conversations. It’s also what brings me freedom.
- Laughter: The counterbalance to my serious side, I focus on smiling, so my face and spirit are truly opened up to laughter.
- Respect: Representing the inherent worth in every person, respect does not have to be earned. To respect someone is to honor them as a fellow human being on the journey of life. It acknowledges they are valuable without any disclaimers or expectations.
- Meaningful Conversation: This is about creating and maintaining a real connection with another human being. Because, as Don Henley wrote, “It’s only in conversation that we get to the heart of the matter.”
- Passion: Enthusiasm empowers different parts of my life because of passion. In turn, this creates curiosity, which gives me the opportunity to learn and grow. Passion gives me a tremendous feeling of being alive.
Ultimately, defining your core values is an essential part of a growth plan for your personal life and for your business. Not only will you become a better leader, but you’ll also become a better person — and no one’s going to complain about that.
Written by Rob Lynch.
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