Mental Model

Each day there will be many choices of where to spend your time, how to show up, and situations that will test your inner being. There will be people who try to influence and confuse you with their agenda, and not care about yours. Life will get hard and you will need a compass to guide you through the darkness and tough choices. Staying the course for what you believe in will be tested. Internalizing your values will calibrate your compass and tell you when you are deviating from your path. You will be living your best life when you are practicing the values you have internalized. People will respect you when they know and see that your actions are aligned with what you believe in. Daily choices become efficient and authoritative. Know your values and seek people and organizations that reinforce your deepest beliefs.


It was the fall of 2007 and after a year at Microsoft, I was selected to participate in the HiPo (High Potential) program – the top 3% of each organization within the company. How I was selected to be a part of this group that would go on a two-year journey together is still a mystery. It was this program that opened my perspective to the process and ideas for developing your career and the responsibilities of a leader to develop talent in an organization. At the orientation, we were introduced to a three-phased approach to personal development: looking inward, looking outward, and looking forward. It became clear that to become a great leader at Microsoft, you needed to have a deep understanding of who you are and lead with authenticity. This journey began “looking inward” and would take us through exercises to discover and calibrate our internal compass. One of the first exercises was to select 3-5 values that we saw as important to us. The beliefs that would guide us professionally and personally. The card decks in the photo above are what we used to explore and select our most prized values. These would represent the pillars of our beliefs. Guide us on how we would show up and use to make the tough choices. The values would stand the test of time.

In my experience, most people have not gone through the exercise of identifying the unique set of values they hold most important to them. Microsoft is the only company where I have worked that invested in taking leaders to “look deep within” before charting a career strategy to roles with increasingly higher levels of responsibility. We all can go through this exercise to identify our values but first, it’s helpful to ensure we get the taxonomy correct on what a value is. I am a fan of Brene’ Brown and her work on daring leadership. In her book, Dare to Lead, Brene’ Brown shares a simple definition:

“A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important”

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (page 186)

It’s also important that we understand what we sign up for to make these real in daily life.

Living into our values means that we do more than progress our values, we practice them. We walk our talk – we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviors align with those beliefs.

Dare to Lead by Brene Brown (page 186)

Internalizing your values will be essential as a tool in your toolbelt when life gets hard – crucial conversations, a loss or failure, or a life-changing decision. In some cases, these are split-second decisions when your values are deep within your heart and bones. In other cases, it will be thinking slowly about what’s most important to you and making the call. As I think back over the course of my life, my values have influenced what job I took, the decision to start and end a relationship, and how I wanted to be seen by my kids. There will come a day when you are in darkness with no one else to guide you. Reach for your values and let them serve as your compass to the next waypoint.

Getting specific and clear on how we live these values will serve as guardrails to keep us on our path (and out of the painful ditches!). In 2007 during the HiPo program, I selected six values: health, commitment, family, integrity, excellence, and discipline. These beliefs have served me well over the years. After reading the Living into Our Values chapter in the book Dare to Lead, I took on the challenge to reduce my list of values to two. Brown describes: “My two core values are where all of the “second tier” circled values are tested”.

As I thought about my original list of six, they all still hold true today in what guides me. But at the core of these values emerged a first-tier value of “leadership”. A leader in the workplace develops people and models excellence, discipline, and integrity. A leader in the eyes of my kids to develop them and demonstrate the perseverance to grind over the haul long. I could not earn the trust to lead a team without commitment, integrity, excellence, discipline, and caring for their well-being (health). The same goes true to be respected by my kids and seeing these values demonstrated. But there was something missing. A big part of who I am is my never-ending curiosity – to learn, travel, and explore the frontier. The desire to learn from my failures, expand and adapt competencies throughout my career and continuously tease out the knowledge of who I am and where I am going. This value of knowledge was instilled in me at an early age by my mother. I still remember doing flashcards with her in junior high and seeing her at the kitchen table working on her Ph.D. dissertation in her late 50s. This is why my home office is full of books where I tease out useful nuggets to learn from and share with others. This is why I have three degrees – it’s the quest and curiosity for knowledge. I arrived at two core values that will serve as my compass – leadership, and curiosity.


1 – Name your values.

Your values transcend both your work and personal life – there is only one list.

Explore a list of values to open up your mind. [option: use the Living Into Our Values worksheet and podcast as a guide]

Identify those values that are non-negotiables that you hold most early in your life.

Reduce the list to two values that resonate deep inside you.

2 – Translate values from ideas to behaviors.

A list of values without understanding how they are demonstrated is useless.

For each value, write down 3-5 specific, observable behaviors – the actions we profess to demonstrate that bring credibility as a practitioner.

What does it feel like when you are living your values?

3 – Stay strong and stand by your values.

Identify a few people who know your values and will be there to share empathy for staying true to these during the hard times.

Write down the list of actions you will take to demonstrate acts of self-compassion in your pursuit of living your values.

Think about a recent time that you were living into your values – what were you doing? what did it feel like?

4 – Acknowledge your current behaviors that do not align with your values.

Look in the mirror and get real that you don’t always deliver on your promise to honor your values.

Write down a list of specific examples and behaviors where you infringed on your values.

Write down the early warning signs – the “slippery behaviors” – when we are living outside our values.

Write down what you will change – a habit, the people you spend time with, etc. – to mitigate or eliminate its re-occurrence.

5 – Engage with people and environments that reinforce your values.

Know who to take on the journey.

Experiment With This

  • Add personal values to your resume – this will help you be clear to others on who you are, what guides your decisions, and how you show up.
  • Print out a document of your values and demonstrated behaviors that you can read daily. What will you do today as a small contribution to your value bank account?
  • Share your personal values with work colleagues to open up a dialogue on why these are important to you, and how you can best work together, and inspire them to do the same.
  • Before joining an organization, ask the leadership for their organizational values and expected behaviors. You want to ensure their alignment between your personal values and those of the organization as an enable for success.


Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. by Brene’ Brown

Dare to Lead List of Values – Dare to Lead Hub by Brene’ Brown

Living Into Our Values Worksheet by Brene Brown

Living Into Our Values podcast with Brene’ Brown & Barrett Guillen

Dare to Lead List of Behaviors – Dare to Lead Hub by Brene’ Brown

Dare to Lead Operationalizing Values Example

James Clear – Core Values List

Let Your Values Drive Your Choices by James Clear

Values vs. Beliefs by Tony Robbins

True North: Leading Authentically in Today’s Workplace, Emerging Leader by Bill George and Zach Clayton (Chapter 5 – Live Your Values)