Valuing our core values
or, communicating what matters most to us
As I’ve said before (and will continue to shout from the mountaintops), many of the same skills that make a great parent also make a great leader. Taking the time to hone these transferrable skills can make us more effective at home and at work. Today I want to discuss one of the most important skills for any parent or leader: effectively transmitting values. The most inspiring leaders—and parents—are those who understand their values, communicate them clearly, and live them fully.
Values are the principles that we hold most dear, and they are at the foundation of who we are—they guide our behavior, inform our choices, provide the cornerstones of our character, and shape how we parent our children. Values are also central to our organizations. In addition to the espoused organizational values (which may or may not actually be embodied), each individual manager has values that impact her team’s dynamics and functioning. Decades of business research finds that leaders who are attuned to their core values build more trusting relationships, and teams that report sharing similar values report greater group cohesion and higher job satisfaction. On the flip side, a discrepancy in values can be one of the most demoralizing and intractable causes of burnout.
"A leader will find it difficult to articulate a coherent vision unless it expresses his core values, his basic identity...one must first embark on the formidable journey of self-discovery in order to create a vision with authentic soul." —Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
The first step in communicating our values is to clarify what those values are. When I start with a new client, one of the very first things I ask him or her to do is perform a values inventory. To do this yourself, take approximately 20-30 minutes to brainstorm your 5-7 core values. Ask yourself: “What is at the heart of who I am and what I stand for? Who do I strive to be?” Values should be relatively stable across your life and transferable across domains (home, work, community, etc.). Once you have your list, take some time to briefly define what these words mean to you.
Below are some examples to spur your thinking; of course, you may choose values that don’t appear on this list:
Accountability: I take responsibility for my own actions and mistakes; I expect others to do the same.
Autonomy: I value the ability to act independently and make decisions on my own behalf.
Connection: It is important for me to cultivate meaningful relationships with others.
Courage: I am willing to stand up for my beliefs, no matter the cost.
Enjoyment: I take pleasure in the things that I do; laughter is important to me.
Excellence: I take pride in a job well done; I set high standards for myself and others.
Fairness: I have a strong sense of justice and I expect decisions to be made free from discrimination and dishonesty.
Family: There’s nothing more important to me than spending quality time with my kids, partner, parents, etc.
Financial security: It’s important for me to provide for my family and fund my lifestyle.
Integrity: I act in congruence with my beliefs and expect others to do the same.
Personal development: I am constantly striving to improve myself and maximize my potential.
Recognition: It’s important that I’m respected and admired for the good work that I’ve done.
Selflessness: I give my all to the people and causes I am passionate about, sometimes even at the expense of myself.
Next, spend some time reflecting on the following questions
When do you most fully feel like you are living your values?
What situations/behaviors make you feel like you are living outside your values?
Once we’re clarified our values, we can start communicating them to others. One powerful way to do this is through a shared values statement. In short, a shared values statement is exactly what it sounds like—a list or brief narrative outlining collective principles and standards. Why do this? First, it serves as a guiding light, signaling purpose and expectations to all group members. Second, shared values provide the “why” behind the decisions we make. Finally, the very process of working together to communicate shared values builds a sense of cohesion and common purpose.
When crafting a values statement in the professional context, start by asking your team to perform the personal values inventory above in preparation for your meeting. Once you’ve gathered your team together, brainstorm the values your group is already living. Remember, values statements are only meaningful if they’re true. You may aspire to be team that values timeliness, but if the reality is that you’re a group of procrastinators, don’t include it. Give team members the opportunity to carefully consider potential values before making any final decisions. Once you’ve generated a thorough list, ask the following questions:
How will we operationalize these values?
If we are more intentional about living these values, will it change our relationships or communication?
How will we evaluate adherence?
Below is an example of a team values statement:
When crafting a family values statement, start by asking your partner to also perform a values inventory and then debrief together:
Did your partner list anything that surprised you?
Where do your values overlap?
Do you have any values that conflict/diverge?
Depending on the age of your kids, you may also choose to involve them. The concept of “values” is fairly abstract, so it’s probably best to include children who are 7 or older. Regardless of whether your kids are involved in the creation, use language that’s direct and developmentally-appropriate (meaning that it will likely be more concrete if you have young kids). When you have finished your list, consider displaying it somewhere in your house and make sure to refer to it often.
Below is an example of a family values statement:
Of course, the most effective way to transmit values is to live them authentically. For example, if we tell others that we value resilience, but then berate ourselves when we make a mistake, we are not living the value we’re trying to transmit. Our kids and our teams will pick up on this, and they may question our authenticity or integrity.
Hold yourself, your team, or your family accountable to your values with quarterly check-ins. If your choices or circumstances feel dissonant with your principles, make steps to change. After all, actions speak louder than words, right?
READ – CONNECT – REFLECT
You’re busy, I get it. Each week I provide a digest of important articles to read, new ways to connect with the people in your life, and a self-reflection question. Enjoy!
How fertility became a workplace perk (BBC). As companies struggle to recruit and retain employees during the Great Resignation, an increasing number of organizations have begun offering fertility benefits. This is great news for full-time professional women, but there are several women excluded from these sorts of benefits (i.e., those who work for small businesses/nonprofits that can’t afford additional benefits, contract workers, etc.) This article is an interesting summary of how the US came to rely on the private sector to offer fertility healthcare.
The internet is failing moms-to-be (Wired). With my first pregnancy, I eagerly awaited the start of each new week so I could check my various pregnancy apps to see what size fruit my son had grown to. This article exposes the mistruths and profit motives of many of these pregnancy apps, reiterating how important it is to get medical advice from an actual medical professional and not the internet.
I'm a dad and a bourbon taster: here's how I talk about alcohol with my kids (Parents). A professional bourbon drinker discusses the strategies he uses to talk openly about responsible alcohol consumption with his kids, starting from a young age.
The age of the unique baby name (The Atlantic). This is a fun one about baby name trends. As one of approximately 9 bazillion “Jessica’s” born in the early 80s, I can certainly appreciate the desire for individuality.
My 6-year-old is super into the Olympics. Hope Henchy, author of the Substack newsletter Family Scripts, had some great ideas for fun Olympic-themed activities for kids. We tried the wax paper ice skates and the Oreo curling and my kids loved them both (although a suspicious number of the Oreos ended up “disappearing” mid-activity…)
Am I modeling the kind of behavior I wish to see in others?
I want to cover what’s important to YOU. I welcome reader input in deciding what and who to write about. Email me at email@example.com and put “newsletter idea” in the subject.
Evaluating our values is such a key component of making family decisions
Thank you Jessica. I've been thinking more and more about the overlap in the way we think about work and family. How we can bring to our family some of the structured ways we use at work to clarify our mission, goals, tools (although that might feel contrived!). And the (possibly more neglected) way around: bringing to our work life some of the things we use at home to create a safe / nurturing / fun (or whatever) environment.