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Written by Dr. Joel Hoomans
Published: December 10, 2014

Values Unlock Your Leadership

“It's not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are.”  - Roy Disney

You can't lead others until you can lead yourself. You also can't motivate others unless you can first motivate yourself. The microcosm of the leader as an individual sets up the macro environment around them. Esteemed leadership author John Maxwell sees this fact as critical. In his book The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership,  law number one (of twenty-one) is the 'Law of the Lid'.  What it says is that the capacity of the organization and its people will be largely determined by the capability and motivations of the leader.

Your Values Keep You and Your Team Motivated

When you are trying to get your leadership rocket off the launching pad and then on to complete the seeming galactic mission you have before you, you have to have enough fuel to complete the journey. If you only get half way, the mission fails. Somewhere along the route every leader has a moment or two when they become exasperated and have to admit that 'Houston, we have a problem.'  Even the best leaders only have a limited amount of themselves to spread around. Since every leader is finite in their energy, time, capabilities, talents, etc., it is critical that they remain inspired. The overflow of this inspiration is what motivates and inspires those around them. One of the best ways to do this is to remain focused on refining and living our core values. Values represent the high octane fuel that takes us to new frontiers. Our personal values directly impact our motivation because our values reflect our beliefs about how we ought to behave and what we find most satisfying.

According to some of the most recent research on values relayed by Parks and Guay, our actual values are:

"...ordered by importance, such that one will tend to act according to the more important value when two values are in conflict.  For example, consider a man who values hedonism (pursuit of pleasure) more than benevolence (concern for relationships).  If forced to choose between golfing and helping his brother move, he would be more likely to golf, because he places greater importance on fulfilling personal desires than on relationships with others" (p. 676).  

In other words, all values are not created equal.  Certain values trump or out-rank others.  Thank goodness, or we would have considerable trouble making choices and decisions throughout life.  However, the problem for many of us, is that while we know we are valuesful people, we are not necessarily conscious of those values, how they rank, whether they are in the order we would like them to be, etc.

Your Values Inform Your Decisions

One of the greatest challenges in this regard is that researchers like Verplanken and Holland point out that individuals only make choices consistent with their values when their values are cognitively activated (i.e. when we are conscious of them).  In other words, our values can get over-looked or ignored by the urgent demands of the moment. They may even be over-ridden or usurped by others demands, inputs, needs and values, when we are not conscious of our own values. When this happens, it depletes our personal motivation and limits the fuel we have available to us - as well as others. To say it another way, our values don't get a chance to impact our behavior and to benefit us if we don't keep them consciously before us.

Why is this a problem?  It is a problem because, when we live our values, the research and professional opinion of experts in the field reveals that there are a host of tremendous benefits. These include:

  • Reduced levels of stress and tension due at least in part to the peace that comes when your values and actions are consistent...and reflected in your decisions, expenditures of time, money, energy, effort, etc.;
  • Clarity of purpose and more ethical behavior;
  • Increased loyalty to those who share our values or help us maintain our own;
  • Courage to live our values;
  • Strong feelings of personal effectiveness'
  • Re-defined personal worth and contribution;
  • Healthy boundaries;
  • An increased sense of ‘happiness.’

When we are not conscious of our values, we potentially miss out on these benefits. More importantly, we can compromise who we are or even let good things compromise great things. The end result is that our outcomes can become unfulfilling. Important outcomes like mission fulfillment and even the most compelling vision may end up not being attained because the fuel and motivation just wasn't there to complete them. To unlock your leadership, you must discover your core values.

Discover Your Values

So just what are your 7-10 core values.  There are lists of values that exist on the internet, like this one. (note: not an exhaustive list)

You can peruse and reflect on a list like this to see what values resonate. It is a challenge to narrow a list like this down to just 7-10 rank ordered core values. For this reason, you can also find consultants and vendors out there that can help you do a values audit and work through this process.  However, the simple way to determine your actual core values is to consider the choices you make and the expenditures of your time, money, energy, effort at present. These things will reveal the values you treasure.  Scriptures like Matthew 6:21 and Luke 12:34 state that "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Your values flow out of your heart and they make up the core of your character...as well as a significant part of how you are known to others. For this reason, they are worth examining and becoming more conscious of.

Do You Like Your Values?

If you like your current core values, then write them down and keep them before you when you make decisions. If a value like family outranks another value like professionalism, then make sure your choices, decisions and expenditures of time and money reflect that. For instance, you may consciously want to bring some energy and enthusiasm home to your family from your work day, rather than expending it all at the workplace. You can do this by doing something at the end of your work day that is invigorating and energizing (perhaps tied to another core value) so that you refuel for the trip home to the family you prize.

If you like your values, then celebrate them.

What gets celebrated gets repeated. If you like your values, then find others who either share them or appreciate them. You will find their company especially encouraging and renewing. If you like your values, then build hobbies around them. For instance, if three of your core values are fun, family and friendship, then invest time in things like playing board games, participating in a small group at church, forming or joining a book club, being part of a ski club, etc., - all things that might bring those values a scheduled time for collective expression. Hobbies often reveal or embody a value. If you like your values, then build boundaries around them and use them to say 'yes', 'no', 'more', and 'not right now'.

Take comfort in the fact that you are not compromising your values and that you are living with integrity. You'll make better decisions this way and there is a tremendous peace that comes from living with integrity. As Shakespeare said through Polonius "To thine own self be true."

Are Your Present Values Disappointing?

If you don't like your core values as you are presently living out your life, then ask yourself what you would like them to be. Starve the values that you feel are presently too high on your list. Don't invest your time and resources in them. They will gradually be diminished....and can even be extinguished. Take the values that you would like to promote to higher levels in your life and ask others to hold you accountable for these values.

Children build skills and values such as heroism and nurturing by pretending. Adults can do this too. If you decide you want to be more generous, then pretend that you are more generous and look for intentional ways to both practice and celebrate your generosity. This may push you out of your comfort zone, but then leadership is all about driving change in a constructive fashion. How can you help others change, if you can't lead yourself through it?

Invest in Your Core Leadership Values

In conclusion, our core values represent our primary motivators. Motivation is an energizing force that induces action in each of us as leaders (Parks and Guay, p. 679), as well as those we serve and hope to influence. If you are struggling with motivation, before you wrestle with your purpose, mission or vision, you might just want to reflect on your core values. Your values unleash your passion and according to an interview on Fox Business with Bishop T.D. Jakes "If you can't figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you right into your purpose."

Reflecting on values will potentially pay huge dividends to the launching and legacy of your leadership. Keep your core values before you each and every day.....and chances are you'll be more energized in your leadership, make better decisions, increase your capacity, expand your sustainability and enjoy the journey along the way to an even greater extent.

Hoomans_JoelJoel Hoomans is Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College as well as Director of Graduate Studies in the Division of Business.  He holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. Prior to his involvement at Roberts Wesleyan College, Joel worked for Wegmans—the premier grocery retailer in the United States—as a human resources professional, eventually becoming their first Manager of Leadership Development.

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  • Jakes, T.D. (2014, November 12). Online transactions.  Message posted to                http://www.goodreads.com/quotes/636989-if-you-can-t-figure-out-your-purpose-figure-out-your
  • Parks, L. & Guay, R. (2009). Personality, values and motivation. Personality and Individual Differences, 47, 675-684.

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Leading Edge Leadership

Dr. Joel Hoomans

Written by Dr. Joel Hoomans

Joel Hoomans is Assistant Professor of Management and Leadership Studies at Roberts Wesleyan College as well as Director of Graduate Studies in the Division of Business.  He holds a Doctorate in Strategic Leadership from Regent University. Prior to his involvement at Roberts Wesleyan College, Joel worked for Wegmans—the premier grocery retailer in the United States—as a human resources professional, eventually becoming their first Manager of Leadership Development.  Joel may be contacted at hoomans_joel@roberts.edu.