What are leadership values, and how can we uphold them?
Leadership values guide everything a leader does. They act as a north star that helps leaders focus on the right priorities. When leaders have strong values, they can live by strong ethics. Strategy and other elements will fall into place when shaped by these values.
“Your values create your world,” says leadership expert Tony Robbins. “Leadership values, like personal values, affect all of your decisions in the workplace. They allow you to inspire others, influence decisions, and have a positive impact on your organization.”
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Understanding Leadership Values
How can we define leadership values?
Values are the set of core qualities we aim to embody. Put differently, they’re a list of behavioural norms we embrace. In other words, they comprise the set of qualities we most value in ourselves and our team. These values help you decide how you want to lead.
The Most Important Leadership Values
We’ve identified 36 leadership values to live by. Which ones resonate most with you?
- Giving back
- Personal growth
Brené Brown shares a long list of leadership values, too. (Some of these are drawn from her list.) You may also think of others as you read through this list.
Let’s unpack some of these leadership values in more detail.
First, while some values are for everyone, others are not. Many leaders would list courage rather than security under their key values, for instance. Not everyone would prioritize simplicity. A leader’s specific set of values shows what makes him unique.
Humility is also critical because you won’t always succeed, he notes.
According to Robbins, service, passion, and vision are the most pivotal leadership values. Service means working for the greater good. Great leaders aren’t self-serving—they serve their teams and community. Their passion guides them to lead with high energy. And a clear vision keeps them laser-focused on their mission.
The value of service will guide leaders to support their employees’ personal growth. They can leverage tools like performance management software to do that. Such tools will help them closely observe performance and give constructive feedback.
The Benefits of Having Good Leadership Values
Why are good leadership values so important? Here are several main benefits:
- Providing clarity on your role. As a leader, knowing your values affirms what’s most important to you. Your leadership values will define your style and approach.
- Stretching your skills. Strong values will guide you to do the right thing rather than the easiest thing. Leadership values serve as a guiding star for doing what may not come naturally.
- Creating the right culture. Leadership values instill a workplace culture with the right elements.
- Influencing recruitment. Leaders will attract the right people when they uphold strong values.
- Guiding employees’ growth. Strong values will guide leaders in supporting their skill development.
- Strengthening commitment. Values like passion, creativity, and dedication will help leaders give more to projects.
- Boosting team cohesion and engagement. Values-based leadership increases a team’s effectiveness and loyalty.
For instance, say a leader’s project flopped for reasons beyond her control. She wants to throw up her hands and leave. But she remembers the importance of resilience. So, she gathers the team together, and they discuss where to go from here. By staying optimistic, she keeps them driven to succeed. By valuing resilience, they become resilient.
Identifying Your Core Leadership Values
To identify your leadership values, consider the following questions:
- What qualities do you admire in others?
- What strengths do you need to grow?
- What type of culture do you want to create?
- How do you want others to view you?
- What qualities have led to your successes?
- What type of environment leads your team to work best?
A Forbes article also suggests pinpointing your pet peeves. Then, work backward to define what the opposite looks like. By doing so, you just might find some of your core values.
Or, you can print out a long list of values like the one above, as Indeed suggests. Then, choose three different colours of markers or pencils. One colour means “Very important,” another means “Important,” and the last means “Not important.” Circle each value in the list with your colour of choice.
Keep in mind that your core values aren’t the only things you care about. They’re simply the ones that resonate most powerfully. Having a shorter list allows for better focus, as Brené Brown says.
The Consequences of Having Bad Leadership Values
Having poor values is almost certain to result in a poor culture. Employees won’t have a role model to guide them in the right direction. In fact, their leader might model behaviours they ought to avoid.
Without strong values, a leader might unintentionally be guided by the wrong ones. For example, selfishness, a desire to always be right, or avoidance of change could guide his actions.
Poor values will also cause leaders’ relationships to suffer. Collaboration will decline in turn. Projects will suffer as well. Leaders and teams will miss out on opportunities to grow, both personally and professionally.
How to Live Your Leadership Values
You can uphold your leadership values in several ways. Try to use each of these methods of living your values. This will help you more fully embrace them.
Make Them Team Values
Make your commitment to your values known. Share them with candidates and new hires. Ask them if they align with these values. Consider whether they provide thoughtful answers about why they align.
Present your values to your whole team, too. Draft a set of principles based on these values that govern your work. Discuss them together. Get everyone’s buy-in about adopting these values and principles as a team. (Adapt them if people come up with better phrasing or other ideas.)
For instance, SHRM presents the following principles shaped by values:
- “Demonstrate accountability in all you do.”
- “Create a friendly and inclusive work environment.”
- “Always bring out the best in others.”
- “Practice selfless leadership.”
- “Have fun—lighten things up a bit and celebrate successes.”
If your team has a particular weakness, think of values that would inspire change. Then develop principles that express what that change looks like. If everyone is too serious all the time, embrace the value of having fun, for instance.
Model Them in Your Work
As we’ve already touched upon, model your leadership values in your work. Show your team and others how to live them. Let your values guide how you embrace success and failure. They’ll also influence how you respond to challenges.
For example, model transparency by talking with the team about upcoming changes. Otherwise, they’ll always be wondering if they’re in the dark about something. They’ll feel more secure when they know you’re sharing the info you have.
Discuss Your Values Regularly
Refer to and talk about your values routinely. In team meetings, values are a great conversation starter. Ask each person to describe ways they’ve lived your team values recently, as SHRM suggests. This will help keep them front of mind. Plus, it will clarify what it looks like to live them.
Serve the Community
Having a positive social impact matters to the majority of younger employees. In fact, 64% of Millennials won’t accept a job with a company that isn’t socially responsible. And Gen Z prioritizes social responsibility over salary, reports Forbes. Examples of social responsibility include the following:
- Making grants to nonprofits
- Funding schools and afterschool programs
- Engaging in special worker wellness initiatives
- Ethically sourcing supply chain materials
- Donating products (as in a buy-one/donate-one program)
Living your values in all these ways will help your team fully adopt them.
Leadership Quotes to Live by
We hope you find these quotes that demonstrate leadership values motivational—we certainly do!
- “A leader is someone who holds her- or himself accountable for finding the potential in people and processes.” – Brené Brown
- “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” – John C. Maxwell
- “People who are truly strong lift others up. People who are truly powerful bring others together.” – Michelle Obama
- “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett
- “Don’t be intimidated by what you don’t know. That can be your greatest strength and ensure that you do things differently from everyone else.” – Sara Blakely
- “Technology is nothing. What’s important is that you have faith in people, that they’re basically good and smart, and if you give them tools, they’ll do wonderful things with them.” – Steve Jobs
- “If you don’t give people a chance to fail, you won’t innovate. If you want to be an innovative company, allow people to make mistakes.” – Indra Nooyi
- “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” – Maya Angelou
- “Forget about the fast lane. If you really want to fly, just harness your power to your passion.” – Oprah Winfrey
- “Leadership is the art of giving people a platform for spreading ideas that work.” – Seth Godin
- “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.” – Lao Tzu
Resources for Improving Leadership Values
Ready to develop and strengthen your values? Looking for more guidance on how to live them? Check out these resources for assistance:
- “15 Ways to Discover and Articulate Your Core Values,” published on Forbes. This article shares advice from an expert panel on discovering your core values. Read the full article for various exercises on defining your set of values.
- Workplace Ethics: Mastering Ethical Leadership and Sustaining a Moral Workplace by Paul Falcone. In this book, Falcone explains how to handle complex challenges while sticking to your values. (Falcone also authored the SHRM article we’ve cited above.)
- Values Based Leadership, a course by the Yale School of Management. Taking a course could facilitate further introspection on living your values.
- The Centre for Creative Leadership offers newsletters focused on growing your leadership. You’ll gain tools, insights, and access to webinars on various topics.
By living your values, you’ll lead your team more effectively. And by aligning your team behind them, you’ll enhance collaboration. Continue reflecting on how to practice them, and you’ll empower your team to excel.
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