A challenge we all face at one time or another in life is the realization that we have spent, or are currently spending, significant time and energy doing something that doesn’t fulfill us.
Maybe you have worked in a job that made you feel bored, disengaged, even demoralized. Maybe you’ve been in a professional environment dictated by principles and standards that just felt wrong to you, even if you couldn’t articulate why. You may have even found yourself in a leadership role where you were unable to be yourself and struggled to hold your team accountable as a result.
I’ve experienced all of this in my own career. In 2005, I was working at a startup where the company’s leadership left people demotivated. I realized I could never be happy in that type of environment and made the choice to leave, deciding to start my first entrepreneurial business.
Even after I successfully launched Acceleration Partners, I hit another roadblock in 2011. The company was growing, with about $1 million in annual revenue, but I had completely maxed myself out in the process. Most crucially, I was hesitant to delegate and lacked confidence in my ability to lead an organization. I wasn’t totally clear about where I wanted to go and more importantly, why.
Upon reflection, I realize now I encountered these obstacles for the same reason—I lacked clarity on my personal core values.
What are core values?
Core values are the non-negotiable principles that consciously or unconsciously guide your most important decisions and actions. No matter what area of your life you’d like to make a change, you have to start by gaining a deeper understanding of what’s most important to you.
Our understanding of fulfillment and achievement is highly subjective. Whether you’re looking to set personal and professional goals, find a job that works for you, or lead a team with authenticity, you have to begin by aligning your daily life and work to your core values. Otherwise, you will find yourself unsure which direction to go, or run the risk of wasting a lot of time and energy running in a direction that won’t provide fulfillment.
This is why in my book on pursuing full potential, Elevate, the very first step I discuss is discovering core values. Since publishing Elevate in 2019, I’ve been asked by many readers how to begin this self-reflective work.
Start by setting aside time, putting away distractions and thinking carefully about yourself. When are you happiest? When are you most drained of energy? What types of people and situations are most frustrating for you? Pose these same questions to your family and close friends—often they can provide novel insights.
Putting careful thought into these questions will help you recognize consistent themes in your life and notice how you felt or performed when you were aligned or not aligned to your values. For example, one of my core values is “long-term orientation,” which means I am most fulfilled when I’m setting and pursuing long-term goals—both in my personal and professional life. I have found I just don’t get as much satisfaction from immediate wins and short-term thinking. I like to play the long game; it’s provides far more fulfillment for me.
Identifying your core values will give you a GPS for decision-making in your daily life, including how you want to lead and where you want to take your business or career. While it’s not possible to make everything we do connect to our core values, we can make conscious choices to spend more time doing what fulfills us and to give less energy to things that don’t.
Live, and lead, with intent
Discovering your core values is foundational to a fulfilling life and also to becoming a more authentic leader. This is why we’ve made developing core values an essential part of our leadership training at Acceleration Partners. We want our team members to have this clarity.
If you are at a roadblock in your life or career, or especially in your leadership journey, the first question to ask yourself is: do I know my core values? If you don’t, start working on that today, as that clarity it is the best way to create alignment, achieve better results, and help others do the same.
Finding your core values is the best thing you can do to accelerate your career and your business. When you get yourself in alignment with your values, you’ll use your time more efficiently, lead others more effectively, and build the team you need to scale your business 10X. It’s not easy work, but it’s never too late to start.
Robert is the founder and CEO of Acceleration Partners. Join 200,000+ global leaders who follow his inspirational weekly newsletter Friday Forward or invite him to speak. He is also the Wall Street Journal bestselling author of four books.