Many lost travelers have had their outcomes brightened by the North Star. If you are in the Northern Hemisphere, Polaris (another name for the North Star) sits more or less directly above Earth’s north pole along our planet’s rotational axis. So, if you face the North Star, you are headed north. 

When I work with leaders, we focus on defining their core values, aka their North Star. Your core values are the things in life and leadership that are the most important to you; they fill you with a feeling of purpose. They help define who you want to be as a leader and just like Polaris, they give you precise and clear guidance. 

If you are ever unclear about a decision to make as a leader, you should think about these beliefs that are most important to you. Reminding yourself of these core values and why they are your guiding principles should help you find your way to a clear decision. 

Connection and Trust: My Beacons

Let me share with you an example of how my core values served me well during a particularly tough time as a leader. 

My two core values are connection and trust. These are what help me find my way when I find myself in a dark place of any situation. 

I was a newly minted store manager when the stock market crashed in 2008. Stores were closing around us, but our company wasn’t closing stores. Layoffs were a possibility. I did not want to lose any of my employees, so I came up with a plan to keep everyone on the payroll but cut one day’s wages for all hourly workers. 

Since I was in a new position, I had not yet developed close relationships with the managers or workers. So, I had to rely on my values of connection and trust. I decided to be honest and transparent with the staff. I called a store meeting and laid out the plan. I did not hide that the salaried managers, me included, would not be taking a pay cut. I openly acknowledged that it was for hourly workers only. 

I explained that I was completely aware this would be a hardship for them, but I shared how important they were to the store and that it was my goal not to lose anyone. I was confident that business would turn around and they would be needed at their regular hours again. 

I promised that the salaried managers would be on the floor working beside the hourly workers and that I would give back their hours as soon as possible. They would also receive priority when hours became available due to callouts, illness, etc. These hours were given to the workers who needed them the most. 

I was asking my staff to place an incredible amount of trust in me; they needed to believe that I valued their contribution and did not want to lose them. It was a big gamble, but it paid off. Of course, they were not happy, but they appreciated my honesty and decided to place their trust in me. 

In the end, we didn’t lose a single worker and by the start of the new year, we had transitioned back to full time hours for everyone. This was a very difficult situation to navigate, but I had to take a stand and really put my values to the test. It’s an example that when you are true to your values, things tend to work out for the best!

Core Values are Non-Negotiable

To live your values and use them for clarity in your life, you must define them. Brené Brown’s 2018 book Dare to Lead is all about core values. She argues that leadership is not something you do but rather who you are. Throughout the book, she places a large emphasis on personal values because they are how we spend our time, money, and energy. Brown also claims that we only have one set of core values regardless of the current situation or what is happening in our lives.

But do you know what your values are right now? Many of us would not think about it until we are asked and even then it can be difficult to identify them. To Brown, it is essential to be clear in your values to be a great leader, so, the first step is to self-reflect and name them. 

I am sharing an exercise from that book that will help you define your two most important values, or your core values. Download the reference list of behaviors based on Brown’s research. You will see a comprehensive list of behaviors, but feel free to add your own to the list. 

While you’re completing this exercise, ask yourself the following questions to get you to land two core values:

  • Do these values define me? 
  • Is this who I am at my best? 
  • Is this a filter I can use to make hard decisions?

Align with your Values

A leader’s values can serve as their North Star by providing a consistent, guided framework for decision-making, behavior, and interactions with others. From the clients you engage with, to the employees you hire, your values are reflected in every facet of your leadership style… and your life. Your core leadership values play an important role in guiding how you make decisions and what actions you take daily. 

Leadership values also help you grow and develop both personally and professionally. Having a strong set of core values as a leader helps build respect and trust among your team. This creates the foundation for you to influence your team in a positive way that encourages high-performance and excellence. When employees see their leaders living out their values they preach, it fosters a sense of purpose and commitment. 

A leader’s values often shape the culture of their organization. By modeling these values, leaders set expectations for behaviors and establish a cultural norm that promotes those values throughout the organization. That helps create a cohesive and motivated workforce. 

A leader’s values are their North Star because they provide unwavering guidance and direction in all aspects of leadership. By anchoring their actions and decisions in their core values, leaders can navigate challenges, inspire their teams, and build sustainable, successful organizations. 

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