5 Questions to Define Your Personal Values and Be a Better Leader

5 Questions to Define Your Personal Values and Be a Better Leader

“Your values act as a beacon that guides you through the fog”, the leader Sophie Brochu reminds participants of the Ambition Challenge. As for Indra Nooyi, the Indian-American businesswoman and departing CEO of PepsiCo maintains that, “values make a ship unsinkable”. So, what are you made of? What helps you navigate through thick and thin? 

Values are what you hold most dear; they’re what should guide your actions and decision-making. Some great virtues come to mind immediately: honesty, equity, respect. But in truth, values are much broader and more diversified in scope: tradition as much as spontaneity, collaboration as well as autonomy, not to mention pleasure, financial success, environmental protection, and more.

Each person has their own core values. The fruit of your education and experiences, they’re usually stable, but can evolve. For example, having an ailing parent could make you realize the importance of work-life balance.

Your values will often influence your decision-making without you being fully aware. But in taking the time to determine which ones matter to you most, you’ll be building a veritable code of ethics that will guide your actions both at work and in other parts of your life. Really knowing your personal values is the key to authentic, confident leadership. By aligning your professional choices with your values, you set a course for a richly meaningful career, lived according to your own definition of ambition.

5 Questions to Define Your Personal Values

Grab a pen and some paper – or open a note-taking app – and express yourself freely. There are no wrong answers, so long as you’re honest with yourself!

1. Picture moments when you felt perfectly fulfilled, at work or elsewhere. What were you doing? In what context? And most of all: what was it that brought you that sense of accomplishment?

Some examples:

  • The great autonomy I had with project X, which let me try out some ideas that worked really well.
  • The close rapport between members of my team the year we launched a new division.
  • The flexibility of my work schedule that lets me spend quality time with my family.

2. Examine a difficult decision you had to make. If you were happy with the outcome, determine the principles that allowed you to make an informed decision. If not, what should you have considered to make a better decision?

Some examples:

  • I’m proud of my team because we rose to this challenge together.
  • To make a better decision, I needed to have less direct involvement and more perspective.

3. Think back to your childhood. What lessons would you like to thank your parents, your teachers, your coaches for? What do you want to do differently with your own children or other young people in your life?

Some examples:

  • I’d like to thank my parents for instilling in me how important it is to persevere; I’d like to teach my children that they are allowed to make mistakes.
  • I’d like to thank my coach for getting me to see the importance of leadership that unites; I hope to teach my children how important it is to stay authentic.

4. Explore your discomfort and frustrations. Negative feelings get a bad rap, but analyzing them can help us better understand what we hold dear.

Some examples:

  • Our last team meeting left me feeling bitter; I was constantly interrupted and I never got to share my opinion.
  • I’ve been disappointed and impatient since I was assigned to a new project; I’m realizing that my role wasn’t clear and my strengths are not being put to good use.

5. Write your own eulogy. Or, if this activity seems too morbid to you, imagine the tribute you would like to hear if you were being given an award.

Some questions to help your thought process: Which virtues would you like to be recognized for? What accomplishments (past or still to come) would you like to have celebrated? Which outlooks will have helped you make it?

Identify the values that seem to be the basis for each of your answers. Are you noticing constants between the different situations? These should help you define your core personal values. Write them down; this way, you’ll have a helpful list to jog your memory when it comes to accepting or refusing a new mandate, or deciding who to side with when debate divides your team.

Most of all, don’t hesitate to take stock on a regular basis and readjust as needed. Marie Cossette, an Associate at Norton Rose Fulbright, realized a long time ago how important it was to align personal and professional values. To stay on course, she takes the time to check in: “for a few minutes, I think over how my day went: what motivated me, what I did or didn’t like, where I need to get back on track” An excellent habit that will allow you to refocus on your values!