The Risk of Misaligned Values 

by Eileen Rogers

We are living and leading in tumultuous and vulnerable times. I need only to turn on the news, open my email or tune in to my next Zoom meeting to be faced with a new challenge or crisis. As a leader, I find my core values tested daily. It can be exhausting to show up both bravely and authentically.

I’ve learned that the most critical asset of brave, courageous and authentic leaders — and the most effective way to preserve my own energy — is to have clarity around my core values. We each have many values, yet there are usually two or three that define us. Indeed, our leadership style is nothing more than our core values translated into action every day. 

But here’s the catch: We can’t practice them if we don’t know what they are. 

Values Make the Leader

While we talk about leadership all the time, what is it really? Skills? Attributes? A training checklist?

In a 2007 Harvard Business Review article entitled “Discovering Your Authentic Leadership,” authors Bill George, Peter Sims, Andrew McLean and Diana Mayer described a project in which they interview 125 successful, authentic leaders. Their goal was to uncover the leadership skills that made each effective and to understand how those skills were developed. At the time, it was the largest in-depth study of leadership development ever undertaken. 

The study found just one single attribute shared by all 125 interviewees: self-awareness, defined by personal values. Each of these leaders could name their core values and knew how, through the course of their own life story, their values came to be. Perhaps most importantly, each described how these top values had been tested under fire. 

Our values are not our values — until they are tested under fire. And right now, there are multiple opportunities every day for leaders to test their self-awareness and values. 

Finding Our Values

A quick online search will lead to dozens of resources that will help to identify and define personal values. In her book Dare to Lead, author and researcher Dr. Brené Brown also offers wisdom about how genuine values truly work. She wrote: 

  • We only have one set. There is not a set of professional values and personal values. And we do not shift our values based on context. 
  • Our values do not change in situations. They are our North Star, which guides us through all of this. Conflicts happen when our values clash with our place of work, our family, the stranger in line at the store. 

For me, the most powerful step was to get clear about the behaviors which defined my core values. How do I show up to my team, family and friends when I am living from my core values? What does it look like to them when I abandon those values? Three follow-up questions helped me seal the deal: 

Does this define me? 

Is this who I am when I’m at my best? 

Is this a reliable filter I can use to make the hard decisions?

We cannot begin to live into our values as leaders if we can’t name them. Our core values are a key beacon on the horizon in times of darkness or ambiguity.

Risking a Life of Misaligned Values

There are three core values that define me: courage, integrity and creativity. As I reflect through that lens on my good decisions, and on the important ones I didn’t make well, it’s easy to see how my core values were intricately woven throughout. 

My failures were especially spectacular when I was living outside of my values. I was often fearful and chose to divert or avoid important conversations. I wasn’t brave enough to risk discomfort, vulnerability, looking bad or stumbling in the arena. I often missed my early warning indicators — a sense of foreboding, the pit in my stomach, procrastinating or polling others for the “right answer” — that would signal I was not aligned in my values. 

My successes happened when all three of my values lined up together. 

I am most proud of how the recent sale of my business unfolded. My partner and I relied on our values as primary negotiating tools, meaning we showed up courageously, respectfully, lovingly and creatively. We sat together in the discomfort of vulnerability as we worked through the financial deal. We stayed at the table together until we had an agreement, with our values intact and in full alignment.

Calibrating my life and my values has led to a greater sense of peace, fulfillment and effectiveness. Knowing, living and practicing them is my “Secret Sauce” to a successful life.  

“Integrity is choosing courage over comfort. You choose what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy. And you choose to practice your values rather than simply professing them.” —Dr. Brené Brown 

After 40 years as president of her print and marketing company, Eileen Rogers’ encore career is now as a leadership coach and business advisor through her company One Creative View. She is a seasoned and accomplished entrepreneur and recognized community leader who is fiercely passionate about supporting and growing more vulnerable and courageous leaders. She is a certified Dare to Lead™ facilitator, Integrative Enneagram practitioner and executive coach.

Our values are not our values — until they are tested under fire.

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