How To Identify Your Core Values

They say that if you really want to see what a person values, look at their wallet and their calendar.

Often we say something is important to us, but our actions speak louder than our words.

And sometimes our commitment to our values is really put to the test. Which is exactly what happened to me this week.

I was faced with a seemingly small decision –  but it was one which really tested my value set.

Every Wednesday I take a trip over to Wellington for work.

However, this Wednesday, I awoke to this:

My son Zac, with a nasty case of the flu, looking and feeling very sorry for himself.

My wonderful husband, who usually steps up on these sorts of occasions (despite holding down a demanding senior executive role himself), was unable to this time.

I was faced with the decision of either cancelling my trip at the last moment – letting down my clients (and of lesser importance to me, losing income) – or fulfilling my  work obligations, and instead pulling in favours from friends to look after my son.

For some of you, this may have been an easy decision (either way), but for me it was one which evoked all manner of fretting and teeth gnashing.

Why? Because this decision tested two of my important values – a commitment to my clients and my work; and my commitment to being a mother.

It wasn’t cut and dry – I knew my son would have been perfectly fine and well looked after with one of my girlfriends. But it would not have been me, his mum, doing the looking after.

In the end, I walked around the garden for five minutes, did a mini self-coaching session and chose to stay home.

The funny thing is, the moment I made my decision to put him first, I knew it was the right decision. I felt lighter and more settled because I had made a decision congruent with my core priorities.

As much as I love my work, my family comes first.

As leaders, you will get tested on your value set constantly. You will be faced with decisions and situations almost daily which call upon your values. And sometimes that decision will mean you have to choose between two conflicting yet important values – of your own and the organisation’s.

It’s not the cut and dry decisions which cause us consternation. It’s the ones where either choice will have drawbacks and opportunity costs.

This is where stopping, pausing and being intentional (or doing the metaphorical ‘walk around the garden’ coaching session) is crucial.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath say in their awesome book, Decisive, “agonising decisions are often a sign of a conflict among your core priorities (those long-term emotional values, goals and aspirations).”

Ask questions such as:

– What sort of person do I want to be?
– What kind of organisation do I want to build?
– What type of leader do I want to become?

They also say:

“By identifying and enshrining your core priorities, you make it easier to resolve present and future dilemmas. To carve out space to pursue our core priorities, we must go on the offense against lesser priorities.”

The moral of the story?

I felt solid and at peace with my decision and was completely comfortable with the costs – and, by the way, my clients were of course very understanding and accommodating.

And my sick wee man?

Well, here’s how he felt about having his one and only MUM mop his fevered brow.

And that’s more than enough for me.

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Suzi McAlpine

Suzi McAlpine is a Leadership Development Specialist and author of the award-winning leadership blog, The Leader’s Digest. She writes and teaches about accomplished leadership, what magic emerges when it’s present, and how to ignite better leadership in individuals, teams and organisations. Suzi has been a leader and senior executive herself, working alongside CEOs and executive teams in a variety of roles. Her experience has included being a head-hunter, an executive coach, and a practice leader for a division at the world’s largest HR consulting firm. Suzi provides a range of services as a Leadership Development Specialist, including executive coaching, leadership workshops and development programmes for CEOs, leadership teams and organisations throughout New Zealand.

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