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Core Values: How to operationalize yourself.

7 mins read

Earlier in 2023, I read a book called Day One Leadership by a guy named Drew Dudley. I pulled two major ideas from this book. One – that a great way to really improve the conversations I have that wouldn’t otherwise have great depth lies in the types of questions I ask. The other, an exercise that shaped the last bit of the year and maybe, the rest of my life.

No joke. That impactful.

Too often, we hear the words ‘mission, vision and values’ in conjunction with our organizations. So often and so plagued by LinkedIn language that, I’d argue, they start to lose meaning. Or, that’s been my experience.

You know?

Like, after you’ve read through the lofty, feather-quill ideas in your organizations mission statement, do you know what they mean?

I’ve seen some that break that rule, but lots that step right in line with it.

In Day One Leadership, Dudley has a system I’d like to borrow here for the purposes of challenging our temporary band of go-getters from the #unchallenge group chat.

What are core values?

Dudley uses some great imagery to explain what he believes your core values look like.

Imagine there’s a private investigator that has been hired to follow you around all day. They watch your every move – and every conversation. They see they way you act with your family, with your coworkers and with the guy behind the counter at the coffee spot. After watching you, they start to understand what really makes you tick – they start to see your core values.

If you were being the person you hope you are, what would they see?

This next part, I’ve baked into my department’s upcoming leadership training – this is completely worth your time. We’re going to clearly define and operationalize your core values.

Take from this list 3 values that describe the way you are. They should be what you show that private investigator when you’re being the person you hope you are. (Or, add your own word if it’s not in the list!)

Core Values List

Authenticity
Achievement
Adventure
Authority
Autonomy
Balance
Beauty
Boldness
Compassion
Challenge
Citizenship
Community
Competency
Contribution
Creativity
Curiosity
Determination
Fairness
Faith
Fame
Friendships
Fun
Growth
Happiness
Honesty
Humor
Influence
Inner Harmony
Justice
Kindness
Knowledge
Leadership
Learning
Love
Loyalty
Meaningful Work
Openness
Optimism
Peace
Pleasure
Poise
Popularity
Recognition
Reputation
Resilience
Respect
Responsibility
Security
Self-Respect
Service
Spirituality
Stability
Success
Trustworthiness
Wealth
Wisdom

Now, you have to define each term in your own words using “A commitment to…” to start your sentence. For example; I chose Faith as one of my values. I defined that as “A commitment to believing in good outcomes even if I don’t have evidence to support them.”

Think about what this means to you. Really dive deeply into what it means to have this be a part of your value system – your guiding principle.

When you’ve got three of them defined, write them down. A great place to write stuff like this down is in a journal. You can write this stuff down in your already well-worn, well used journal because you’re already journaling, right?

Operationalizing

Here’s the real kicker.

It’s all fine and well to say I subscribe to these values or this is the way I think I live my life.

It’s another thing entirely to put those values into action. And, I think that’s where a ton of people hit a real speed bump. Or, that’s a question I’ve asked myself; “how do I practice living the way I believe I should live?”

Here’s Dudley’s answer.

He says that you can compile questions to ask yourself if you’ve hit the mark. One step further than that – you can schedule those questions to pop up as reminders on your phone at certain times of the day. That, for me, was a great idea – I could use that strategy to remind myself (with actionable questions) about the values I was trying to live by instead of just hoping that by way of discipline and my feeble human memory, I’d just figure it out.

Ask yourself.

So, develop a question for each defined value.

Each question should have; a yes or no answer that is based on action.

An easy way to do that is by phrasing your question something like “How did I ___________ today?” or “What did I to today to ___________?”

Important note: You can’t use your value’s name in your question.

Another value I selected was Resilience. I defined that as “A commitment to continuing despite obstacles”. The question I used to operationalize that value was “How did I move forward today?”

See what we’re getting at?

When you’re done, you’ll have three values, three definitions and three questions to plug into your thinking. I think that process is critically important.

Before your effort, you need an aim. But, your aim is going to be predicated on your values.

I find, most commonly, people can articulate what they believe but not how they act out what they believe.

For the #unchallenge, we’re not starting with a gruelling workout. We’re not just doing stuff.

We’re taking a moment to calculate our why.

Oh yeah! I almost forgot to outline the other part of the book!

Dudley also has some stories about asking relevant, deep questions to inspire and transform the types of interactions you have. And maybe, all the interactions you have. To avoid just copying his entire book here, I’ll leave it at this;

“If you were about to send your kid off to the world – out on his own for the first time, what advice would you give him?”

Go buy that book – it’s worth studying.

Bill Dungey is a volunteer firefighter in Ontario, Canada. He is focused on fitness, mindset development and finding training opportunities to help the fire service make things better.

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