the shape of leadership

Three Questions to Help You Discover Your Core Values

Getting in touch with the real you

Understanding your core values is essential on both a personal level and an organizational level. Your values define what’s most important to you. They’re like the internal rules of the game that guide your life, your leadership and the organization you lead.

Values are also personal. You can’t flippantly rip off somebody else’s values and claim them as your own. Sure, there might be similarities, but your values should be a true reflection of your life or the ministry you lead.

If you want to discover values that are true to you, I recommend wrestling with three questions. These questions will work for an individual on a personal level; they will also work for an organization looking to clarify its values.

How Do I Behave?

My behavior reveals true values. If I say I love my wife, but I don’t take time to cultivate a healthy relationship, do I really love her? In this case, my words say one thing, but my behavior says another. Behavior shines a spotlight on actual values.

Similarly, my desires reveal aspirational values. Just because I desire to do or be something doesn’t make it an actual value. I can’t simply aspire to live a certain way; I must do it. Behavior is the true test.

Application: What behaviors do I consistently model?

Where Do I Invest My Resources?

God has entrusted each of us with resources. Those resources include things like time, money, abilities and influence. Christ calls His followers to be stewards — or wise managers — of the resources He gives us. How we invest these resources reveals what is most important to us.

Something always drives what we do.

A quick look at your checking account, calendar, commitment to growth, and interactions with the people you influence will say a lot about where you invest your resources. These things can reveal what you believe about stewardship, and what you value most.

Application: How and where am I investing my time, money, abilities and influence?

Why Do I Do What I Do?

Something always drives what we do. This driving “why” behind the “what” reveals your values. So, how do you get to the why? Try the following exercise.

I _____________ because I value _____________.

The first blank is the “what,” and the second blank is the “why.” In the first blank, write whatever activity or behavior you regularly engage in. In the second blank, write the value that drives you to do what you wrote in the first blank. For example, you might make the following values statements:

•     I volunteer at the food bank because I value the hungry in our community.
•     I lead a small group because I value relationships.
•     I read two books per month because I value personal growth.
•     I tithe because I value generosity.
•     I always tell the truth because I value integrity.

This simple activity is a great way to pinpoint what you value based on your most consistent activities.

These three questions will jump-start your efforts to uncover your core values. Again, you can also ask these questions in your organization or church. Look at how your best leaders behave, where your church invests its resources, and why your church does what it does.

If you don’t like what you discover, identify a set of aspirational values (values you aspire to live by). Then, determine what steps you need to take to turn aspirational values into actual values.

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