How do our own core values drive us?
Personal core values are principles and beliefs that define us, and how we fit in any group or organization. Last year I wrote about the core values of our school: relationships, resilience and respect. These principles define our school, and all we do is shaped around them. It is just as important to know your own core values, and how they fit with the groups in which you live and work.
David Logan, USC professor and author of Tribal Leadership, says core values are "principles without which life wouldn't be worth living." An activity on personal core values led by Mary McMahon, an outstanding principal and an influential, dynamic and positive educational leader,, helped me to clarify, define and prioritize my own core values last year. This list of values also gave me cause to reflect on how they meshed with my life, work, family, personal mission, goals and vision.
From Mary's activity, we can each ask and answer these questions. Ours was specific to education and leadership, but they can be generalized to any walk of life.
What are you most passionate about?
What are your non-negotiables?
What behaviors are unacceptable and why?
What does your dream workplace or organization look like?
What matters most to you (in your job, family, group or organization)?
Why do you do what you do (job or personal mission)?
After thinking, writing, and reflecting on these questions, take a sheet of paper and list your top 10 core values. Try for one word or a short phrase to describe each. Think about and distill down what truly matters most to you. We did this at BHS with staff to start the school year, and the results were powerful. Staff completed their list, made posters and hung them around the library. We finished with a "gallery walk," reading one another's core values and reflecting on both the individuality and shared purpose and passion of the group. Huddling up to end the day, each staff shared the amazing impact this activity had, especially on seeing the principles their colleagues live by and the universal commonalities that drive all of us. It was powerful beyond measure, bringing us together in a tight, cohesive network of people dedicated to serving our students and school. It was amazing.
Here I'll share a few of the primary core values I live by. My hope is that each of you reading this will take the time to brainstorm and list your own core values, post and share those, and lean on them as guideposts or pillars of your lives.
In his book Stewardship, Peter Block talks about the servant leader. These leaders put their organizations first, focused on the needs of others. They develop others, through coaching and continuous improvement. They build positive cultures, community, and pride. Service to others, and to schools, is a principle that makes life worth living to me; it gives me purpose and direction, makes me feel rewarded and fulfilled. In Good to Great, Jim Collins says great leaders look out the window when things are well, and look in the mirror when they go wrong. Take responsibility for your organization's failures, and give credit for successes. This defines servant leadership for me; it is a principle I live by.
Servant leaders understand that all organizational success is based on human relationships. This quote from Carl Buechner speaks to the importance of personal connections: "They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel." Building relationships and developing mutual respect go hand-in-hand, setting the stage for a positive culture, collaboration, creative thinking, growth and learning to happen in a safe environment. Our relational capacity determines how much we can draw from each other, how much feedback we will accept, and how hard we are willing to work for a group or a cause. Which is more powerful in your life: the person you are afraid will be angry, or the one you are afraid to disappoint or let down? Our individual success is based on relationships: the most successful people among us are masters at connecting with others and connecting others in wider groups and circles, building networks or complex and beautiful webs of common bonds, interests, and support. Despite some outdated myths of a lone leader riding in on a white horse, relationships are the heart of personal and organizational success.
Gandhi famously said, "Be truthful, gentle and fearless." This is a favorite quote of mine, hanging on my office wall. Taken in combination this is a complex concept I've reflected on deeply.
This word, "grace," has fascinated me over the past year. Although I've been an administrator with much responsibility for 15 years now, I still have never yelled at an employee and refuse to raise my voice with students. Although I can give a hard truth or difficult feedback, or hand out a consequence one has earned though their actions, I believe firmly that can be done honestly and compassionately- with grace. Ernest Hemingway famously said "Courage is grace under pressure," and in difficult times I apply this idea to handling pressure, stress or crisis with calm and confidence. To do all we do, in love or strife, with a balanced, compassionate yet firm and courageous demeanor and approach: that is grace. It is something I strive for constantly; always an opportunity for continuous improvement. It has cemented itself as one of my core values.
Reflect on your core values, how they guild your life and how they fit with your groups and organizations. Share your thoughts and your values with others. Reflect, revise and refine often.