Do Good To Lead Well Through Crisis: Leading with Core Values

By Craig Dowden, Ph.D.
core values

In their best-seller Built to Last, Jim Collins and Jerry Porras revealed an important and transformational finding. One of the key differentiators of companies that made the leap from good to great and stayed there was an enduring set of core values. These values were sacred and immutable. While strategies and tactics could conceivably constantly change, the core values of the organization stayed intact. They were the ultimate True North!

The idea of core values also applies to how we lead. Research has lauded the importance of values-based leadership and the perils when it is absent. Unfortunately, one of the key hurdles that can prevent us from honoring our values is when we are under stress. When times are good, it is easy to stay true to our core values. However, when tough decisions are on the horizon, we can often act out of character.

In my coaching work, this can be a major source of regret and challenge for executives. Relationships and business outcomes can be threatened and compromised, both in the short and long term. In some cases, the damage is irreparable. The current global pandemic provides a ripe breeding ground for every one of us to act outside of our core values.

The following Core Values Exercise can support us in staying true to who we are:

1) Identify Your Values

An important first step is to identify your values. While this may seem self-evident, taking the time to identify and write down your values brings them top of mind. 

If you are stuck and unsure of what to write about, don’t worry. The VIA (Values In Action) Institute has a free, online assessment of character strengths. Other online values identification assessments are widely available (including a longer, 45-minute version on the Psychology Today website). 

2) Create Your Daily Intentions

Knowledge is only the first step. Once we have identified our values, we need to think about how we want to live them each day.

One powerful approach is to set Daily Intentions. In particular, think about how you want to live each value in the coming day. To get the most out of this exercise, be as specific as possible in your intentions. This maximizes the chances you will honor them. Greater ambiguity leaves too much open to interpretation and it is tougher to measure. Try providing at least 1-2 specific actions under each question.

For example, if one of your Values is Gratitude, rather than write down, “I will be grateful every day,” use “I will write down three things I am grateful for in my gratitude journal,” and/or “I will ask my children what they are grateful for,” and/or “I will send a thank you note to a colleague.” 

3) Track Your Performance

The last step entails tracking your performance. At the end of each day, sit down and score yourself on a scale of 0-10 on how well you honored your core values. The purpose of this reflection is not to game the system. Be honest with yourself. This provides two benefits:

  • First, we can savor the satisfaction of honoring who we are each day.
  • Next, if we failed to perform well in one or more of our values, guess what will happen the next day? We will be highly motivated to make up for our shortcomings the day before.

Making the Most of this Exercise

To benefit from this exercise to the fullest, invite a Values Accountability Partner (VAP) to join you on this journey to living your most authentic life. Ask your romantic partner, your colleague, children, friend, mentor, to hold you accountable. Ask them to ask you the questions above. This is an incredibly meaningful and connecting conversation. What better way to honor and live according to our values than by sharing this exercise with the people we care about most?

If you would like to receive a more detailed version of this Core Values Exercise, please visit  https://craigdowden.com/self-assessment/ to receive your complimentary copy.