There are several misconceptions about leadership floating around out there, but the one I find to be the most egregious is the idea that there is a prescription for what leadership looks like. That there is a defined list of attributes and accolades one needs before earning a “Leadership Badge.”
This one-size-fits-all concept for leadership makes for a tidy Table of Contents in the latest leadership literature, but it tends to gloss over the fact that a leader is a person driven by a set of core values and principles, first. The creation of a leader is internal, not external.
In an oft-cited study in the Journal of General Management evaluating how the needs and values of strategic leaders shaped the vision, goals, and strategies to create shareholder value, the report found that executive values had a direct impact on organizational performance, whereas age, tenure, functional experience, and level of education did not.
One can try to embody the latest Top Ten Qualities of Effective Leadership, but before you can confidently lead from a place of authenticity and purpose you have to understand your core values and how they manifest themselves in your work and life.
My own leadership journey has only just begun. Looking to develop my capabilities further, I recently started working with a professional coach to help me define my strengths and values and look at how they align with my priorities and how I manage my professional energy. Each week we work through a series of short, introspective exercises. The first of which had me go through a list of values and highlight the ones that resonated with me. Then, without overthinking it, narrow the highlighted list down to the top five values most important to me.
The benefit of choosing values with no situational context was that it revealed my core principles. As it turned out, above all, I value Authenticity, Creativity, Discipline, Learning, and Stability. These are the values by which I live my life and fuel my professional motivations. These core values also drive my leadership style by shaping my vision, goals, strategy, and definition of success.
Each week as we continue our work, we check in with these values:
- How am I living or expressing these values currently?
- How does this value affect the way I make decisions or manage a situation or interact with others?
- What’s holding me back from using this value in certain circumstances?
- Is there a misalignment somewhere between my core values and the way I’m going about my work?
- How can I change this?
- How can I use these values to affect change?
- How can I present these values so that I’m bringing my best self to the table?
In essence, I am working toward discovering how I can nurture my brand of leadership to make positive changes around me.
It came as no surprise that my brand of leadership has a fierce desire to learn and to grow and to bring people with me. But throughout the evaluation process, I realized that the moments where I struggled to lead were not because of a skillset inability, but because of misalignment between my values and the project/team/organization’s values.
As I continue on my leadership journey, it’s crucial for me to recognize when it’s most advantageous for these values to come into play, or acknowledge when there is a gap and how to best navigate the situation, or when it’s time to embrace someone else’s values and let them lead instead.
Learning about your values and strengths and checking in with your alignment can also steer you back to a place of authentic leadership. Being a next-gen leader means it’s up to you to create and promote a new set of leadership ideals that produce healthier, progressive workplace environments. But, in doing so, it’s imperative to remember that you do not have to live up to anyone else’s picture of leadership except your own.
Courtney Fanning is the founder of Big Picture Branding, providing brand strategy and copywriting for purpose-driven businesses. In addition to serving on the Women in Leadership Nexus Events Committee, she fosters community connections as a refugee mentor for Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island and is a student mentor with Providence Career & Technical Academy. When she isn’t supporting businesses and individuals by uncovering their purpose-driven strategy, she can be found wandering through her local farmer’s market, indulging in her passion for the performing arts, and going on day-trips with her family.