Leadership & Management Getting Started

Values Are More Important than Goals

Values are meant to be adhered to; they provide the foundation for good decision-making, while allowing new innovations, world-events, and personal circumstances to adjust long-term plans.

preview image

Leaders should not be motivated by ‘what;’ they should be motivated by ‘why.’ In other words, good leaders are value-driven, not goal-driven.

In 2009, author and leadership expert Simon Sinek was featured in a Ted Talk titled “How great leaders inspire action.” In it, he explains that at the center of how the great leaders and companies operate is the order of their messaging.

Companies like Apple start by explaining why they exist, and everything else they do follows from that central point. Sinek explains that people aren’t necessarily inspired by computers; they are inspired by a company that constantly seeks to be at the forefront of innovation. People are inspired by what Apple believes in, so they buy their products.

As the third most-watched video in TED Talk history with 54 million views, people clearly resonate with Sinek’s assertions. To take this concept a step further, consider the difference between being value-driven and being goal-driven.

Value-Driven vs. Goal-Driven

Goals are meant to be achieved; they are clear and focused, but they often exist in isolation of a holistic vision. Values are meant to be adhered to; they provide the foundation for good decision-making, while allowing new innovations, world-events, and personal circumstances to adjust long-term plans. The difference between the two is the difference between a result and a process - between taking a new job because you set the goal to many years ago, and taking the job because it is right for you today.

Consider this Scenario: Lucinda is an executive at a tech firm in San Francisco. She has been at the firm for 10 years, and though her passions don’t quite relate to tech, she was recruited in college and set becoming a senior manager as a goal when an early mentor noticed her natural leadership abilities.

At 32, Lucinda goes to a company retreat where she takes a quiz on goal setting and values alignment. She discovers that two of her values are ‘constant learning’ and ‘creativity.’ Shortly after, Lucinda finds out that her younger brother and his wife will be having a baby, so she decides to move home in one year where her firm has no offices. In thinking about her values, she sets a goal to work at an arts education non-profit that she used to frequent as a child.

As Lucinda is packing up, she gets a call from a Professor at her Alma Mater. The Professor offers Lucinda a teaching job that would allow her to be in an academic setting; she will have time to volunteer at many of her favorite non-profits in her hometown, spend time with her nephew, and enjoy a more flexible schedule.

If Lucinda would prefer the teaching job, but is goal-driven, she might have a hard time letting go of her earlier decisions. If Lucinda is values-driven, she would realize that both of her options align with her values, so she need not worry if the specifics of her plans change. In addition, if she had taken time to learn about her values earlier in life, she may have had a significantly different career.

The key here is that goals should be offshoots of values, and being value-driven offers both direction and malleability. It forces individuals to think about what matters to them and to align what they care about with important decisions at each of life’s many crossroads.


Values-Driven Leaders Better Serve Employees and Companies

Leaders making life choices based on their values is best for themselves, yes, but it is also best for their employees and the companies they work for. As Sinek pointed out, people buy into ‘why.’

Employees prefer managers who are passionate about their jobs, and a recent study found that passion directly correlates to performance. Therefore, when leaders go into roles that intrinsically suit them, everyone benefits.

This may sound like a vast oversimplification, but in 2019, Mental Health America found that 59% of employees are actively looking for a different job. Over half of those surveyed, indicative of over half of Americans, are dissatisfied with their current role. Though there are many factors that relate to job dissatisfaction, when there is a misalignment of values, this sets up a stronger likelihood that there will be disengagement and lower performance.

Going back to Lucinda’s hypothetical tale, she was a high performing executive who lacked the passion for her job. Imagine what she would be capable of if she got to lead a team working towards a mission that aligns with her values. More importantly, imagine what you would be capable of.

Photo by Magda Ehlers from Pexels

Subscribe to the

blog preview


HR, People, and Team insights delivered straight to your inbox