Brene Brown’s Value Exercise

Brene Brown’s work has had a tremendous impact on my life and I found a great deal of meaning and self respect in identifying my core values using the Value Exercise from her book Daring To Lead. Understanding my core values are has been integral to my growth and having this knowledge has brought the clarity I needed to step into a life of service to others as a way to live in alignment with my core values. Since this exercise has been such an empowering force in my life, I thought you might find it interesting and valuable and who knows, maybe it’ll have an equally important impact on almost every aspect of your lives as well.

The following is an excerpt from Brene Brown’s Dare To Lead

The daring leaders we interviewed  always carried with them clarity of values. This clarity is an essential support, a North Star in times of darkness. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, values are “principles or standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important in life.” In our work, I simplify the definition: A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess 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. Living into our values requires some upfront work—contemplation that most of us have never taken the time to do. And, as much as I don’t want to make this part feel like a workbook, it’s going to be work-in-a-book. I’ll take you through the three steps and share some of my experiences (good and bad), so if you hang with me, after a few short pages, I bet you’ll know more about yourself and how to live into your values than you do right now.

Step One: We Can’t Live into Values That We Can’t Name

The first step of living into our values is divining what’s most important to us. What is our North Star? What values do we hold most sacred? We can’t work to stay aligned with values when we haven’t spent any time getting curious about, or naming, what we care about most. When I facilitate this work in organizations, I always get this question: “Do you want me to identify my professional values or my personal values?” Here’s the rub: We have only one set of values. We don’t shift our values based on context. We are called to live in a way that is aligned with what we hold most important regardless of the setting or situation. This, of course, is the challenge of living into our values: those moments when our values are in conflict with the values of our organization, our friends, a stranger in line at the grocery store or polling station, or even our family.

 Above is the list of values that we use in our work. As you can see, there are blank spaces for you to write in values that we may not have included. The task is to pick the two that you hold most important. I know this is tough, because almost everyone we’ve done this work with (including me) wants to pick somewhere between ten and fifteen. I can soften the blow by suggesting that you start by circling those fifteen. But you can’t stop until you’re down to two core values. Here’s why: The research participants who demonstrated the most willingness to rumble with vulnerability and practice courage tethered their behavior to one or two values, not ten. This makes sense for a couple of reasons. First, I see it the same way that I see Jim Collins’s mandate “If you have more than three priorities, you have no priorities.” At some point, if everything on the list is important, then nothing is truly a driver for you. It’s just a gauzy list of feel-good words. Second, I’ve taken more than ten thousand people through this work, and when people are willing to stay with the process long enough to whittle their big list down to two, they always come to the same conclusion that I did with my own values process: My two core values are where all of the “second tier” circled values are tested.

 Here’s how that works in my life: My two central values are faith and courage. I hated not circling “family.” But as I dug in, I realized that while my family is the most important thing in my life, my commitment to them is fueled by my faith and my courage. For example, when I say no to an exciting work opportunity because I don’t want to miss driving carpool, I lean into my courage and faith. It may be different for you, but I have to be brave enough to say no and not let the fear that someone might think I’m being ungrateful for not taking the opportunity get the best of me. I also need the strength of my faith to remind me that if I do what’s right for me, there will be other opportunities. Sometimes my prayer is simply If I miss the boat, it wasn’t my boat. Our values should be so crystallized in our minds, so infallible, so precise and clear and unassailable, that they don’t feel like a choice—they are simply a definition of who we are in our lives. In those hard moments, we know that we are going to pick what’s right, right now, over what is easy. Because that is integrity—choosing courage over comfort; it’s choosing what’s right over what’s fun, fast, or easy; and it’s practicing your values, not just professing them. Choose one or two values—the beliefs that are most important and dear to you, that help you find your way in the dark, that fill you with a feeling of purpose. As you read them, you should feel a deep resonance of self-identification. Resist holding on to words that resemble something you’ve been coached to be, words that have never felt true for you. Ask yourself:

Does this define me? Is this who I am at my best? Is this a filter that I use to make hard decisions?

Step Two: Taking Values from BS to Behavior

The reason we roll our eyes when people start talking about values is that everyone talks a big values game but very few people actually practice one. It can be infuriating, and it’s not just individuals who fall short of the talk. In our experience, only about 10 percent of organizations have operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train their employees and hold them accountable. Ten percent. (And yes, I’ve taken to the occasional “izing” of words.) If you’re not going to take the time to translate values from ideals to behaviors—if you’re not going to teach people the skills they need to show up in a way that’s aligned with those values and then create a culture in which you hold one another accountable for staying aligned with the values—it’s better not to profess any values at all. They become a joke. A cat poster. Total BS. In this second step of the Living into Our Values process, we need to define three or four behaviors that support our values and three or four “slippery behaviors”—actions we find ourselves tempted to do even though they are counter to our values. And get explicit. There’s no magic in three or four behaviors—it’s just enough to force us to think beyond what’s easy and not so many that we’re just making a list. The best way to do this is to think through some arena moments when you either did or did not show up in a way that felt aligned with your values. For example, I often find myself in dust-ups on social media around social justice issues. People will leave comments like “Stick to the writing—immigration isn’t your issue,” or “Stop talking about race so much.” These sentiments even show up at my public events during the Q&A sessions. My value of courage calls on me to stand up and speak out for my beliefs. If you say something to me, or in front of me, that I find racist, or sexist, or homophobic, even if other people are laughing, I’m not going to laugh. I’m going to ask you not to say that stuff around me. I don’t do this out of self-righteousness or being “better than”—trust me, there are times when I’d rather just shoot you a dirty look and walk away. I say something because courage is one of my key values, and for me to feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually okay, courage insists insists that I honor it by choosing my voice over my comfort. If there’s an issue that I feel passionate about, I’m going to write about it and post about it on social media. If you leave a shaming comment or you’re hateful toward me or anyone in my community, I’m going to delete it and ban you from my page. One of my courage behaviors is Don’t choose silence over what is right. It’s not my job to make others more comfortable or to be liked by everyone.

 Faith has been so tough for me over the past year because one of my faith behaviors is to find the face of God in everyone. Ugh. That means rather than hating people, I have to hate only their ideas. Rather than shaming and blaming people, I have to hold them accountable. Blame is so easy and accountability is such a time-suck. And no fun at all. I tried reworking faith to be finding God in the face of people I like and with whom I agree, but that didn’t last more than a day. I quickly turned into someone I didn’t like—I couldn’t find God in myself. Another one of my faith behaviors is no dehumanizing language. I’ve been living into this value for close to twenty years, and now I cringe when I hear anything dehumanizing from either side of the aisle. I cringe a lot and I have to take regular social media sabbaticals. It’s the most difficult when I have to say something to someone who shares my politics and justifies dehumanizing language because “we’re the good guys.”

We all know what it feels like to walk outside our values. We all know what it feels like to stay silent and comfortable instead of voicing what we believe. I test my values all the time. I see how far I can push and cajole them before they break. I’m imperfect and scared a lot. We all are. But think about those moments when something really hard has happened to someone in our lives—maybe a friend or a colleague has a partner or parent or child who has been hurt or killed. And we know that we need to make a call to check in and see how we can support. But rather than doing that, we zigzag; we walk past the phone so many times that we eventually convince ourselves that it’s too embarrassingly late to make the call. It starts with “Okay, I should call, but they’re probably eating dinner, I’ll call later.” Several hours go by. “You know what, it’s bedtime, I’m going to call tomorrow.” You wake up the next morning: “I bet they still have a lot of family over. I’ll call in a few days when it’s quieter.” And what do we feel when we never make that call, and we run into that colleague or friend two or three weeks later at the grocery store? Most of us feel shame, and we feel completely outside our integrity.
On my list of courage behaviors is something my mom taught us growing up: Show up for people in pain and don’t look away. From my experience and from what I’ve learned from the daring leaders I’ve interviewed, I will pick those five to ten seconds of discomfort any day over pulling in to my driveway and turning off the car while thinking about what I did, or didn’t do, and how missing the opportunity to do or say something was a betrayal of what I value most.
Another courage behavior for me: Choose courage over comfort. And I’ll share a little hack with you about those seconds of discomfort. I did an experiment several years ago to see how long the intense, in-the-moment discomfort lasts. After a couple of months of tracking it, I landed on eight seconds. In most situations, there are eight seconds of intense discomfort. I told Steve, “Oh, my God! It’s like riding a bull! You have to make it eight seconds!” So now, when I know something hard is “fixin’ to happen,” I always think of George Strait’s “Amarillo by Morning”: But I’ll be looking for eight When they pull that gate. I mean, c’mon. We can do anything for eight seconds, right? The discomfort may linger long after, but the hardest part of the ride has settled down. Below are some questions and prompts to help you think through operationalizing your values.

Value #1 ___________________________________
What are three behaviors that support your value?
What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your value?
What’s an example of a time when you were fully living into this value?
Value #2 ___________________________________
What are three behaviors that support your value?
What are three slippery behaviors that are outside your value?
What’s an example of a time when you were fully living into this value?

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