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Leading Life: A value proposition?

Updated: Mar 25, 2023

Welcome to the second post in the Leading Life series! Whether you’re a higher-ed leader trying to maintain some sense of balance or someone who simply wants to spend a bit more time focusing on things that matter, I think you’ll find tools here that can help. And at 2-3 minutes in length, these posts won’t keep you from your summer fun… or the many other things on your to-do list.

I’ll start today with a confession: There are times when I have absolutely no idea what I’m doing. Whether I'm working through a leadership challenge, struggling with a research project, or fumbling through a parenting debacle, I sometimes feel rudderless... lost.

I wish I could say that I always remember to pause and return to what’s most important to me in these moments, but I don’t. Not even close. And yet, when I am able to tap into my sense of purpose and my core values, I feel more grounded almost instantly. Solutions may not magically appear, but at least I have a crudely drawn map to guide me.

In the first post in the Leading Life series, I shared simple steps for crafting a life-purpose statement. Here, we’ll focus on clarifying our values. Before we dive in, I want to acknowledge that most of us have a hard time narrowing our list of core values down to a workable number. Unfortunately, when we don’t, our values become almost meaningless. As Brené Brown shares in Dare to Lead (p. 190), “the reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a good values game but very few people actually practice one...If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors... they become a joke. A cat poster.” No offense to cat-poster lovers, of course. ;) There’s just no way to operationalize 15 “core” values. It’s hard enough with 5 (or even with only 2, as Brené Brown recommends).

So, give these values-clarification exercises a shot. (Although this guide was put together for the STANDOUT Professor group, but I’ve used this exact approach with many different groups.) Note that if you’re like me, it could take a few tries—along with the passage of time—before you land on a short list that truly resonates. When you feel like you’ve settled on your 3ish core values, you might ask yourself these questions (also from Dare to Lead): Do these define me? Are they who I am at my best? Are they a filter that I use to make hard decisions?

Once you have a solid (working) list of core values, we'll put them to good use! In the next post, I’ll share a technique for turning key behaviors—perhaps those that support our values?—into daily habits. In the meantime, if you’re interested in diving a little deeper into the connection between our values and the stress we experience, check out this free, self-paced, online session created in partnership with wellness teacher and coach, Victoria Fontana.

Hope to see you again soon!

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