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My 3 Core Values as a Leader

September 14, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Leading Integrity

I have often thought the best way to define a man’s character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it comes upon him, he felt himself most deeply and intensely active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says: ”This is the real me!”

– William James

What makes you feel alive?

The answer to that one simple question is a huge step toward discovering your core values and your authentic leadership.

This past weekend I shared my leadership core values with one of my closest friends, Doug Crandall. I’ve known Doug for half my life—we were roommates at West Point, peers in the Army, and currently work side by side on the team that delivers Walmart‘s groundbreaking Leadership Academy.

Yet in all those years—all the discussions, debates, experiences, successes and failures we’ve shared—that was the first time I ever shared my core values as a leader.

This surprised me, because I believe (along with Doug) that core values are critical to establishing and living out your identity as a leader. They form and inform the kind of leader you are. Failed leadership can often be traced back to a dissonance between what a leader values (or says he values) and what he actually does.

So, I’ve decided to share my core leadership values with you—the things that make me feel most alive. But first, a few disclaimers:

  • This isn’t a didactic exercise—these values aren’t offered as the “approved solution”
  • I don’t think you can have 50 core values, or even 10 for that matter. 3-5 seems right to me
  • Values are alive. These are mine today—the result of my choices & experiences to this point

My core values as a leader:

1. Freedom. My purpose is to free people & organizations to be their best.

2. Service. My leadership is an offering and a responsibility—not a right or a privilege.

3. Trust. I’m most effective when I trust myself and earn the trust of others.

That’s my list. As it stands right now, it’s just words. I find the only way values come alive for me is with stories. So I’ll spend my next few blog posts sharing stories that I hope will help you understand my take on these three words.

Consider this list my ante. Now it’s your turn…

What are your core values as a leader—what makes you feel alive?

  1. September 14, 2011 at 10:26 am


    Great post. I agree with you that you have 3-5 core values.

    Here are mine.

    Truth – Where there is truth, there is freedom, dignity and respect. It’s about a bigger agenda than my own.
    Trust – I cannot do this alone. I need to both trust others (their skills, intentions and word) while being wise as a serpent and gentle as a dove) and earn the trust of those I serve.
    Empowerment – I’m not leading people if they are not growing and doing things they couldn’t do before; helping them to find their potential. Otherwise I’m just managing the operation.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share… I think you’ve given me muse for an upcoming post on my blog.

    • September 14, 2011 at 11:52 am

      I particularly appreciate “Truth” and your take on it. Thanks for sharing, Kevin.

  2. September 14, 2011 at 11:24 am

    Thanks for raising the question. Here’s my first-pass-and-for-now list of three.

    Accomplish the mission.
    Care for the people.
    Do it in a way that tomorrow is better.

    • September 14, 2011 at 12:13 pm

      Short and sweet, thanks, Wally. I like the spirit of advancing the last one brings. Thanks for sharing.

  3. September 14, 2011 at 12:23 pm

    Leadership is NEVER about the leader, and it’s not so much about what you know, but coming to understand how much you don’t know. For me, the key to leadership has always been learning to lead beyond the limitation of self, and making sure those I lead are better off for being led by me. Here are a few additional thoughts:
    Love those you lead
    Trust those you lead
    Serve those you lead
    Do the right thing
    Find whatever “it” is, and get “it” done with excellence.

    • September 14, 2011 at 6:22 pm

      Great additions, Mike. The other-centeredness really shines out in your values—balanced, of course, with accomplishing the mission. Thanks.

  4. Norah Ringma
    September 14, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    I’ve never had a designated leadership position at work but three core values I won’t abandon as an employee are:

    Honesty – without honesty you’ll never be dependable.
    Commitment – I may not have understood or believed in the work’s subject matter when I was hired, e.g., the world of law and law firms and the world of biotechnology, but by committing to the jobs I came to understand why I should either believe in the subject or at least comprehend what motivated the principals. Without commitment a person will never do their best.
    Compassion. If you can’t imagine being in the other person’s shoes you’ll never see the big picture.

    These are really old-fashioned values but I’d like to think that old-fashioned is still in fashion.

    • September 14, 2011 at 6:26 pm

      I hope honesty, commitment or compassion never go out of fashion! I guarantee if you’re living these values, Norah, you’re leading others—whether you realize it or not.

  5. September 14, 2011 at 4:18 pm

    Hi Geoff,

    Development both my own, others and organizational but especially personal. Some might call this learning but learning seems a bit narrow to me.
    Humility – get out of the way, shine the light on others. I had trouble with the third one because there is a cluster of terms I want to include. I think I need more clarity.

    What about opportunity? hmmm Like I said, I need more clarity for #3.



    • September 14, 2011 at 6:32 pm

      I totally see these values lived out in your writing, Dan. I struggled with my #3 as well (a lot is wrapped up in ‘trust’ for me). I like Humility, such a subtly powerful quality.

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing!

      • Norah Ringma
        September 14, 2011 at 8:01 pm

        Genuine humility is a rare quality but when you find a person who has it, what an absolutely breathtaking thing it is to experience. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. Ron Edmondson
    September 14, 2011 at 8:47 pm

    Great post. I would say for me:


    • September 14, 2011 at 11:05 pm

      Though I’m thinking it’s no accident that Intentionality rests next to Purpose & Consistency proceeds Character, I really like the delineation. Thanks!

  7. September 14, 2011 at 9:35 pm

    I love posts that get to the very heart of people and organizations. This one goes to the core (pun intended). Mine:


    • September 14, 2011 at 11:11 pm

      Thanks Maurilio—for the compliment & for sharing your values. First time we’ve seen Loyalty show up today. I love the concept of being loyal to your followers.

  8. September 17, 2011 at 10:14 am

    Geoffrey, What a thought-provoking post and great discussion. Thank you!

    Narrowing down our list of values to just 3 helps us get to the quintessence of who we really are as people and as leaders.

    That said, here are my 3 core values as a leader:

    (1) Service
    This is the realization that I am where I am because others served me. And now, it’s my responsibility and duty to use the days of my life to serve others—to help them reach heights they may not have thought possible, to help them unlock their human potential. We’re here to serve as many peoples as we can. There’s a certain humility inherent in this. I lead knowing it’s not about me, it’s about YOU.

    (2) Passion
    This is the fuel that we need to face even the toughest of obstacles and still manage to keep going. It’s enthusiasm for one’s work. It’s love for others and what they can accomplish with their God-given gifts. It’s love for oneself and an appreciation for the valuable contribution we can make to everyone around us.

    (3) Innovation
    I believe the leader’s job is to shun complacency; to stir the pot good; to anticipate what’s coming; to create something new and better! Innovation is about studying, learning, listening and adapting. Let’s push the limits and challenge the status quo. There’s a better way and we’re going to find it…together.

    Thanks again Geoffrey! Your blog is a wonderful resource and tool.

  1. September 19, 2011 at 1:55 am
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