It is well recognised that you cannot lead others well, until you can lead yourself. You need to be clear about your values and use them as your foundations to guide your decisions and choices. These are most useful in times of uncertainty and when there is great ambiguity. There will be many times in your life when one group of experts says ‘black’ and the other says ‘white’. In these circumstances, often there is no obviously right or wrong answers and the best decision you can make should be based on your values. In doing this you will be comfortable that, whatever the outcome, you made the best decision for you, at the time, with the information you had. Establishing your values that inform both your work and personal lives allows you to revalidate what you do on a day to day basis and clarify your longer term goals. Our values are unique to us and while we will have overlaps with other peoples values, we are all individuals driven by different experiences, motivations and goals. It is always worth remembering as we explore this topic that, ‘What is right is not always popular and what is popular is not always right’ Albert Einstein.
To begin with it is worth looking at values from a macro point of view. What values do you see being demonstrated by others?
- What values are commonplace in your work? Do the leaders of your organisation truly value others contributions, flexible working, time off, teamwork and collaboration? How do they speak about other colleagues, clients or departments?
- What do your friends and family value? Do they really value learning, time with others (i.e not being on their phone) or value material success and showing off? What type of humour and story telling is acceptable?
- As a country do we value creativity and design as much as hard work and production? As a nation do we value the ‘elderly’ as much as the ‘young’? How much does social inequality matter?
- What type of society do you want to live in? How important is education, health, infrastructure, social security, voluntary work, charity work, art and stopping to help others?
So what do you value and don’t you value? How do you measure success in or outside work? It is useful to start thinking about identifying the times when you were at your happiest, the most proud and the most fulfilled and satisfied. Based on these thoughts here are some questions to get you thinking about what you value. Sometimes it is easier to think of events that cause frustration, anger or upset and use these to understand what value is being challenged in causing the upset.
- What do you value about work, home and where you live?
- What groups do you identify with? What groups don’t you identify with?
- Think of four people who you most admire and consider why they are important to you?
- What stereotypes or labels do you use?
- What social norms do you value? Do you notice when people use please and thank you? How important is time keeping? Dress code etc?
- When someone says they ‘only’ work part-time as they look after the children – do you think nothing, great or part-timers at work are just a ‘headache’.
By reassessing what your values are, you will better understand yourself as a leader. Learn your strengths, weaknesses and the contexts in which you flourish and flounder. Do our actions match our words? I would encourage you to seek constructive critical feedback on your leadership. The question is not if the opportunities for improvement exist but if you choose to take them. Learn what it’s like to be on the receiving end of you. What is your impact on others and how can you improve it?
You will face many leadership challenges and how you respond creates your personal brand and legacy. Remember that your legacy is created today not when you leave.