“Good leaders put together a list of basic guiding principles and share those values. By sharing and explaining values, employees are better prepared to understand the reasoning behind actions and decisions.” - From The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner
In 2014 I developed my first list of educational leadership “core values.” Originally called my Core Beliefs in Education document, this was my first (rather amateur!) attempt at outlining the core ideology that guided my decisions and behaviors at work. To this day I’m not exactly sure what inspired me to develop this list as I had never seen any other school leaders share a document and I don’t recall a time when someone suggested I complete such an exercise. However, as a developing leader, I believed I would find value in writing down the most valuable traits to possess as a school leader.
With the turning of the calendar into a new year I took some time these last few days to review my core values document to ensure it reflected my current thinking. This updated document - which is now called my Educational Leadership Philosophy - can also be seen at the bottom of this article. As I compare the 2014 version to the 2020 version, I can’t believe how much this document has transformed over the years! I simply have to shake my head at how limited my scope of thinking was six years ago. But that is why we must push ourselves to be lifelong learners, correct?
Ultimately, I have found this practice to be hugely beneficial as I continue to define “who I am” as a leader. Investing time to regularly hone in on the most important characteristics of leadership helps me stay committed to these principles. I have found having a deep understanding of these core values gives me the confidence to fall back on these principles when I am having difficult conversations and making important decisions. Furthermore, I have been happy to discover that a number of leadership experts support this practice.
Beyond The Leadership Challenge, books such as Principles (Ray Dalio), The Advantage (Patrick Lencioni), Dare to Lead (Brene Brown), and Built to Last (Jim Collins) all endorse the importance of developing and articulating a set of guiding principles and core values.
Finally, one of the most impactful aspects of creating a list of guiding principles is that clear alignment of personal core values and organizational core values becomes possible. How could you possibly know if you have alignment when you don’t know what your personal core values are in the first place? A quick comparison between my Educational Leadership Philosophy and our Organizational Strategic Plan indicates that there is a relatively tight alignment between both documents. While there is still work to be done, I am happy with how far we have come over the last 18 months.
I would highly encourage leaders of any organization take some time to develop a list of guiding principles and core values. Completing this process isn’t easy and will most likely take you several hours! However, challenging yourself to articulate your beliefs will help develop a deep commitment to your values, and will help you justify the actions and decisions you make on a day to day basis.