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Nail Down Your Core Values

By Shawn Lovejoy

What do you value? What are your core values? Do you know? More importantly, does everyone else know? Should our core values change over time? How can we nail down our core values? Then, once we’ve nailed them down how can we be sure we nail them in our lives and the organizations we lead? Well, to nail down and then nail our values, here what you need to understand:

We usually don’t select core values. They select us.

The reason core values are called CORE values is because core values are usually already inside of us. They drive our thoughts, decisions and behaviors. We already value certain things. How do we pick our core values? Begin by asking yourself some questions.

  • What do you value?

  • What is important to you?

  • What fuels you?

  • What frustrates you?

  • What excites you?

Years ago when I was leading my team to nail down our Staff Core Values, I asked the team these types of questions:

  • “Why do we love it here?”

  • “What do new people love about it here?”

  • “What keeps people here?”

  • “Why do we have such a great team dynamic here?”

  • “What seems very important around here?”

  • “When you are corrected, what is it usually about?”

See, most of our our team’s core values were already within our team. There were things that were already valued, we just had to get it out of our heads and down on paper. Boom! Before you know it, we had our core values nailed down! By the way, I talk about this process in length in my book Be Mean About The Vision, but your answers to these types of questions will most often allow you to be more accurate in “picking” your core values.

There’s a difference between ASPIRATIONAL values and ACTUAL values. Core values are things we actually value!

When many leaders and teams set out to “pick” their core values, they begin by writing a group of traits on paper or on the whiteboard that express a desire to be something they currently are not. However, core values most often come from our core. They’re already inside of us. They are things we already value!

But what if we WANT to add something to the list that isn’t currently in us or in our team? That’s cool. I’m comfortable with you adding a couple aspirational values, as something for which you strive. Especially if you are trying to CHANGE some of the things you currently value and create a healthier and more vibrant culture, aspirational values are a great way to express our desire our aspiration to value some new things. Frankly, however, those are going to be the most difficult to drill down into your heart and your team. They will take much more time, attention, and effort! Whatever you do, just hear me saying that you should always begin with your ACTUAL Values and then add 2-3 (no more) ASPIRATIONAL values to the list.

Now…once we have nailed down our core values, how can we be sure we nail them?

  • Put the values on paper, make them public and clearly visible.

  • Talk about the values at least weekly

  • Review yourself and your team regularly according to your values.

  • Coach, Correct, Select, and Deselect Team members based on adherence to your core values.

Before you know it, you’ve not only nailed down your core values…you and your team are nailing them on a consistent basis!


Shawn Lovejoy

Shawn Lovejoy is Founder & CEO of CourageToLead.com. They facilitate leadership growth and organizational health for leaders through executive coaching and organizational consulting. Shawn has been a successful real estate developer, a church planter, megachurch pastor, and now leads a fast growing coaching and consulting organization. Shawn is the author of three books, most recentlyMeasuring Success: Your Path To Significance, Satisfaction, & Leading Yourself To The Next Level. Shawn has been married for 25 years to his best friend Tricia and they have three children: Hannah, Madison, & Paul. They all live in Trussville, AL, a suburb of Birmingham.


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