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Why do core values matter in leadership?

Updated: Mar 23

Values matter for organisations and for individuals. When values are shared across an organisation, it brings people together and gives consistency to behaviours. That then leads to a positive organisational culture. If you don’t have shared values established, then it’s a great idea to work together as a community to define them. Having a few words that mean something to everyone, that you can all get behind, can be very powerful.

But I really see the power of having that clarity on an individual level as well, for leaders. In a recent poll on social media, over 500 school leaders voted on the words that best describe their core values. The top choice was ‘integrity’, but lots of words came up (see image below). You might say that all school leaders should have integrity as a core value, and that might be correct. The Nolan Principles, for example, would say that. But in my experience, working with individual school leaders, identifying your own personal set of core values can be really powerful. You bring your own personality to your work as a leader, and I’ve noticed that leaders express what drives and motivates them in different ways. Discovering and validating that for yourself leads to confident and authentic leadership.

There’s never one way to approach things in leadership, there’s always lots of possible routes to take. It’s misleading for young and less experienced leaders when others try and mould them to their own ways of thinking. At some point, they will have to stand alone and make decisions and it will feel lonely. Sometimes, decisions will need to be made where you’re ‘damned if you do, and damned if you don’t’. The best way to succeed in those situations is to know yourself, know what you stand for, and act within those parameters.

There are a few simple ways to discover your core values. I’ve made a short video to outline one activity, which you can watch here. Another is this: describe in a short paragraph the work you do as a leader and what makes it important. Read back through your paragraph and underline the words that seem the most significant. Do they feel like core values?

When you’ve identified your core values, it’s good to ‘try them for size’ for a few weeks. Spend a bit of time reflecting at the end of the day on how they have shown up. For example, if you value creativity, notice the times when you have been creative, or nurtured creativity in others. You might find that you drop some of the words you adopted because they seem less important, or adopt others that become more relevant. Values can evolve over time as you grow and develop as a person and as a leader.

When you face a dilemma, challenge or difficult decision you can ask yourself these questions:

· Which of my core values is most significant here?

· What is that value guiding me to do?

· How can I act in a way that is in line with my values?

Values give a particular ‘flavour’ to your leadership. I’ve worked with leaders who are driven to ‘inspire’ their school community, which gives a flavour of leading by example and high expectations to their work, whereas others would choose ‘kindness’. Whatever words we choose to express our core values, once we know them, the knowledge is powerful. When we arrive at a difficult decision, or need to prepare for a difficult conversation, reflecting on values can help us to make choices that will feel ‘right’ and authentic to us. We won’t feel the need to overthink before making the decision or ruminate afterwards, because we’ll be confident that it’s the right thing.

So what's the flavour of your leadership?

If you’d like some help in getting to know your core values, and using them to guide your work as a leader, please get in touch. You can book in for a complimentary consultation using this link.

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