Most of us have a desire to close the gap between the person we are and the person we’d like to be. Ironically, few of us have a detailed plan for getting there. It’s much easier to muddle through the seasons of life with a vague understanding of what matters most to us and hope we like where we land.
That might be enough when things in our life and career are humming along with no challenges or surprises. But when confronted with a crisis, we need to move forward with clarity and specificity. Often, there isn’t time to stop and think about the role our values play in the decisions we make in the middle of a challenge.
But the reality is this: we get to choose the person we become, so it is critical that we take time to figure out what matters most. We are at our best when we consciously make decisions and choices based on a life of values, purpose and meaning.
Here are four strategies to help leaders figure out what matters most and share it with others:
1. Reflect and share your story
To share your heart story, you need to reflect upon your life. Reflection can be uncomfortable because it requires us to look at the good, the bad and the ugly in our life. But they are part of who we are, and it’s important to analyze our choices and the path we’ve chosen for ourselves.
So what if life hasn’t been perfect and you’ve made a few blunders? What is important is what you learned from those experiences. Reflection is the path to self-awareness and understanding who you are and why you matter. It helps you understand how your values were formed.
Now is the opportunity to revisit those values and discover how they impact your well-being. Well-being captures the notion that we know what matters to us and live accordingly. Research has shown that values help us form an overall picture of the things that give our lives meaning, which in turn, produces well-being.
Reflection allows us to look at whether we’ve focused on the people, places, things and experiences that align with our purpose.
When we share our stories as leaders, it helps to build deeper connections with our teams. If nothing else, it allows us to share our humanity.
What you can do now:
- What do I value most in life?
- What personal qualities are important to me?
- What traits do I want to cultivate in the future?
2. Observe your behavior
As an FBI agent, I always put the targets of my investigation under surveillance with a team of trained specialists. The surveillance revealed tons of information about the target’s behavior and how they were wired emotionally. The surveillance team could pinpoint when the target was stressed because of changes in behavior.
I suggest you do the same. Put yourself under surveillance so you can observe when you feel depressed and bummed out. Both are a sign that neither your goals or your behavior are working for you. Burnout is another way your brain tells you something is amiss with your values and goals.
Perhaps it’s work, childcare, eldercare or relationship issues. If you pursue values in ways that aren’t sustainable, burnout is the result.
Leaders who can communicate the need to identify what they stand for and what they can expect from those around them present an excellent example to others. Once leaders know their terms for living a life of value and meaning, they can help others do the same thing.
What you can do now:
- Are my values sustainable in my current situation?
- Are my values compatible with other commitments?
- Am I putting too much work into one goal and ignoring others?
3. Find your voice
Once we understand and embrace our story, we are empowered. Our story doesn’t need to be perfect. We know it will contain regrets and guilt but it will also help us embrace how those same experiences shaped the person we’ve become.
Our voice articulates our values, beliefs, spirituality and leadership qualities. It is unique to us and infuses the way we relate to others. When you know your terms for living a life of value and meaning, it’s easier to communicate to others what they are.
As a leader, you can also help team members do the same thing because we each have a voice that steers our decisions and choices.
What You Can Do Now:
- Think about how you communicate with people around you.
- Pay attention to how they react to the things you say and do.
- Jot down both positive and negative reactions.
- Notice how your voice created those reactions.
4. Keep your commitments
If we want to close the gap between who we are and who we want to be, we need to start with what we have. But this doesn’t mean we can’t decide to explore what else is out there. Our values can’t remain vague and unfulfilled. We need to make them more specific.
Your thoughts, words and actions express how you show up in the world every day. They become your personal brand.
The challenge is to balance your personal brand, the person you are now, with the promise of who you can be. A healthy person with a strong mind is someone who continuously grows and evolves to become the best version of themselves.
We are told that we are entitled to be happy and passionate about all we do in life — if we’re not, something is wrong. Groupthink is seductive because it takes the burden of self-awareness and reflection away from us and places us in a comfortable rut. And this is where we stay, surrounded by a life of mediocrity because we didn’t keep our commitment to reach our fullest potential.
The only difference between a rut and a coffin are the dimensions.
Our values change with age because our circumstances change. This makes it even more important to re-evaluate what matters most to us. We can’t do what matters to us if we don’t know what it is.
As a leader, you need to be thoughtful about how you show up each day. The only way to manage your brand is to be authentic, speak in your true voice and share your values with the world. Your job is to help bring others along on their journey so they can figure out what matters most to them as well.
What you can do now:
- Explore your options and understand the various ways people value people, things and relationships. This may help you discover things to value that aren’t currently on your radar.
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years, during which she exposed and recruited foreign spies and developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty and deception. Find out if you’re mentally tough with Quy’s FREE, evidence-based Mental Toughness Assessment. Quy’s new book is “Secrets of a Strong Mind (2nd edition): How To Build Inner Strength To Overcome Life’s Obstacles.” Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.