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Vail Valley Voices: So, what do you stand for?

John Horan-Kates
Vail, CO, Colorado
newsroom@vaildaily.com

At the Vail Leadership Institute, we define values as the foundational beliefs that are vitally important and that you supremely treasure.

Values are those virtues that live in your heart and form the base of your decision-making. They are the qualities that govern most of your thoughts, attitudes and behavior.

Some say leadership is complex, and from many perspectives it is. But it can also be quite straightforward when viewed from the standpoint of what’s really important.

A close look at your core values can be very helpful, because an inside-first perspective says values inform the principles that define your character.

Why is it so important to understand your values? Why do so many leadership experts start here?

The answer lies in the fact that values are the basis of an ethical life. Underneath all of your feelings, perspectives and actions lie values. Values serve as a guide and they describe what you stand for.

For example, one person might choose “family” as a core value, while for someone else “freedom” might be a broader value they draw upon.

Another example might be “community.” This is a value that many people hold. It’s a quality that they feel has been lost and they want it back in their lives. But community is not really something that you do.

On the other hand, “serving” is a principle that takes action on that community value. Serving is something you do – it’s external.

All of these are legitimate values and their centrality in your leadership depends on your perspective.

If values guide your actions, what then determines your values? Most psychologists say we all have a “value-system” shaped in part by our family, friends and influenced through all the school years, and very significantly, by our spiritual perspective and by the culture of our time.

You can tell what you value by how you spend your resources – your time, your talents and your money.

Your value system matures as these early influences take their effect and blend with experience. Values can vary widely from the more passive, like beauty and joy, to the more worldly, like success and money.

Many leadership experts talk about universal values that are subscribed to by most of our wisdom and faith traditions. Their lists typically include values like love, peace, happiness, freedom and equality, among others.

God gave us free will to choose the values we cherish. Making these choices is both a right and a responsibility. But in the choosing, you need to understand the “why” questions: Why is that important to me, and why do I choose this course?

Another way of understanding these concepts is to look at them as a whole, as in your worldview.

A worldview is a set of suppositions that you hold about how the world works. You might think of it as a filter through which you see things, or the software that is constantly operating in the back of your mind. It’s a compilation of all those values that you’ve come to draw upon most regularly.

It might include perspectives on politics, economics, ethics, the environment, personal development and learning. Spiritually-oriented leaders look to scripture and sacred texts as the foundation for their lives. Throughout the Bible, God inspired the various writers to share stories and insights that can guide us in every aspect of leadership.

The process of defining your values can take some time. It involves identifying and weighing worldly values versus spiritual values; distinguishing primary values from those that are secondary.

Yet another way is to think about community or group values versus personal values. Then there are head values versus heart values.

Head values tend to revolve around your capabilities, strengths and intelligence and are more outward.

Your heart values lean more toward the emotional side, including things like feelings and relationships.

Some values may seem more desirable than others, but we know that good leadership requires both head and heart. Living an optimal balance is the key.

Given all of this, what are the values most central to how you live and lead?

This column has been written in connection with Exploring Potential, a character development program in Eagle County high schools. John Horan-Kates is the president of the Vail Leadership Institute in Edwards. He can be reached at 926-7800.


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