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Why values are important to leadership

Why are values so important to all of us and the key to happiness and success in life? In this article, Caroline shares her response to this question.
VALUES written in colorful typography

Values are important to all of us, and are the key to happiness and success in life, so let’s start with why that is so.

Values are fundamental to each of us as individuals. We develop them often at an early stage of development (they say usually before we reach eight years of age), and they are developed through our experiences and environment. Because so much of our brain is working at a subconscious level (they say over 90%), we are generally unaware of the process of values-development. Sometimes, looking back it all makes sense, but sometimes even then it doesn’t.

Values are the things we really, really believe in, that we are absolutely passionate about, that we won’t give up or forgo and therefore they are also things without which we do not thrive and can never be truly happy.

Values, as we’ve said, are part of the unique make-up of each of us, and we often do not understand this. We see corporate websites explaining the company’s values, and we can easily adopt an attitude of ‘well, those are all good values – who wouldn’t be in support of them?’ However it’s more subtle than that. Whilst there are many values out there that we all would say are good, or worthy, they aren’t necessarily our top or core values.

So if we’ve done our values exercise, and understand what our own core values are, then when looking to join a new company, we need to check to see whether our values really are a good ‘match.’ Equally, we may want to check out those of our existing company, as this can often provide an explanation as to why we are very happy in that company or, on the other hand, feeling unhappy/uncomfortable/not at ease. We may not have been able to articulate the issue before, but once we understand the relationship between our values and those of others around us including our workplace, it’s as if our eyes have been opened. We finally can explain our feelings and our sense of ease or otherwise. Staying in a company or environment where our values are not in accord leads to unhappiness, underperformance and even burnout. It’s critical that we understand this and apply this knowledge to our life decisions. Equally it can apply to a potential marriage, a move to another country or indeed joining some form of social network.

Then we can ask, so why is this important to leadership? Well, we’re not going to be a good leader in an environment where we do not feel at home, unless it’s something we can change. If we find we are offered a role somewhere but the culture represents a clash with our core values, then we’d be better avoiding it. I once made the mistake of being flattered into a role, after 10 interviews and everyone saying how great I was for it, and then when I started I realised it was really not a place I wanted to be nor were there enough like-minded/courageous people for us to make the changes that were acknowledged as being needed.

And as a leader we also need to be aware of these dynamics going on around us wherever we are at the more micro level, and think how we can make our organisation inclusive for others, who might have slightly different values. This is particularly important when we are leading cross-functional teams, where the difference in core values is likely to be greater than that in a one-function team, such as finance. Within finance there will likely be some similar types of people, as they were attracted to the same profession, but their values may vary more than you might think. If leading on a project where there is a cross-functional team, or indeed if progressing to CEO level, then the finance person will likely find a greater variety of core values across the team.

Let’s take some examples. In the team we may have someone who is very motivated by money, someone else who really craves variety and excitement, and a third person who really values family and friends. They all may have a cross-over, but when making key choices, these are their really top core values. The first person will likely need to work in an area where there are good financial incentives around performance, or else good prospects for promotion. The second will need to be offered variety in their role, or else secondments or travel, perhaps. And the third person will need to feel there is sufficient flexibility in the role for them to be able to spend an appropriate amount of time (for them) with family and friends, without feeling that this is frowned upon by others.

Importantly the leader needs to wear their values on their sleeve too, and by being authentic in this way they will gain the trust of others.

In the end, it’s not about having clones in a team or organisation that all are the same, but it’s about:

1) ensuring you are not a fish out of water, in an extreme case, and

2) allowing for different values to be welcomed in a diverse and inclusive workspace.

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Introduction to Applied Leadership and Self-Development: The Fundamental Tools

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