Let your values lead the way

A few weeks ago when Boris wrote about overcoming decision paralysis, I shared a comment that I make important decisions by evaluating my choices based on how they align with my core values. For years now, I have been encouraging nearly everyone that I meet to take some time to reflect on his or her values for this exact purpose (among many others).

People often talk about the importance of leading a value-driven life or business, but what exactly are values? They are at the core of our happiness, the source of our inspiration, and foundation of our close relationships. They serve as our compass and guide our decision-making.  They shape our character both in our personal lives and at work.

The importance of values in building a company

Values don’t just help you overcome decision paralysis. Living and leading with your values, as well as being mindful of the values of others, is helpful on many levels when building a startup. For example:

  • In finding your entrepreneurial purpose.  When you live and work in the Valley, the entrepreneurial spirit is contagious. I often meet engineers who have the drive to be a founder of a company but are stumped about what exactly to build.  In these cases, I encourage them to brainstorm pain points that they have experienced as well as reflect on how solving these problems aligns with what they value.  If you are building a surface solution that doesn’t resonate deeply with or inspire your core being, you will quickly lose your passion to build your startup.

  • In building a product. Many startups today understand the importance of staying lean and creating a minimum viable product (see our list of resources, under “Lean Startup”). But how do you stay focused on the priorities amidst a long list of features you want to implement? One effective method is to think about your users’ values. Create a persona for each user type – outline their demographic information, roles, personalities, and most importantly, their motivations/values.

  • In hiring.  Yes, it’s important to find the right technical talent. But you also need to hire people who are aligned with your company’s values and passions. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck with high turnover rates and hefty recruitment costs as employees choose to leave because of lack of fit.

  • In developing people and culture.  Free meals, gym memberships, etc. are perks, not culture. Great leaders constantly communicate their vision to their team. These leaders know that shared values lead to greater ownership and accountability, and ultimately more creativity and innovation. For instance, PayPal’s president, David Marcus, was criticized last week for chastising employees in an email for refusing to download the company’s app. However, David’s intent was to cultivate PayPal’s culture by strengthening their collective purpose and passion, while encouraging those who are less engaged to “go find something that will connect with [their] heart and mind elsewhere.”

  • In sales / fundraising.  Learn what your customers and investors value and appeal to these values with good storytelling. That’s the best way to make an impact.

Identifying your values

Years ago, while doing my PhD, I was introduced to an exercise designed to identify your core values. This was such a transformative experience that to this day, I continue to recommend it in some capacity to nearly everyone I meet.

To figure out what your personal or your startup’s values are, begin with a long list of values (as an example, see the bottom of this post).  Start by selecting all that you care about, and then narrow them down to 10, then down to 5, and maybe even 3.

My personal values are compassion, continuous learning, and freedom, while my professional values are leadership, positive change and optimization.  Knowing myself in this capacity made the decision to work in venture capital an obvious and right one for fostering my development and growth.

What are your core values?  Did you learn anything new or surprising about yourself in this process?

List of Values

Accountability

Excitement

Peace

Achievement

Fame

Persistence

Adventure

Fairness

Personal Expression

Aesthetics

Family

Play

Affection

Flexibility

Pleasure

Authenticity

Forgiveness

Power

Autonomy

Freedom

Purposefulness

Balance

Friendship

Quality

Beauty

Fun

Reason

Career

Faith

Recognition

Caring

Happiness

Relationship

Challenge

Health

Religion

Change / Variety

Honesty

Resourcefulness

Collaboration

Honor

Respect

Commitment

Humor

Responsibility

Communication

Influence

Safety

Community

Inner Harmony

Security

Competency

Innovation

Self-Worth

Competition

Integrity

Sex

Connectedness

Intellectual Status

Social Justice

Contribution

Justice

Social Status

Cooperation

Knowledge

Spirituality

Courage

Leadership

Stability

Courtesy

Learning

Strength

Creativity

Leisure

Success

Dependability

Location

Support

Dignity

Love

Team

Discipline

Loyalty

Tolerance

Drive

Mental Stability

Trust

Economic Security

Order

Truth

Environment

Organization

Wealth

Excellence

Partnership

Wisdom

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  • http://www.markevans.ca/ Mark Evans

    Angela: Great post. I think people tend to overlook values when putting together their vision for starting and building a startup. To true your personal and professional values plays an important part in doing business the right way for the right reasons. Here’s a post I published today looking at why startups should have a higher calling: http://www.markevans.ca/2014/02/21/startup-higher-calling/

    Mark

  • atkingyens

    Thanks Mark. They absolutely should have a higher calling. Whatsapp overarching vision is still very much inspiring and is probably downplayed by their massive exit. Everyone is focused on how a messaging service made $19B but should think beyond the functionality of the product and align with the fact that they are working towards a a vision of enabling free (or close to) communication across all platforms and geographies.