Many companies aspire to develop their next generation of leaders in-house. Unfortunately, many leaders make the same mistake in designing their leadership development training: they primarily focus on tactics, rather than on building the capacity of the leader.

Leadership training at many companies covers standard management skills, including running effective meetings, public speaking and performance evaluation. There are all necessary for leadership, but none of them are as impactful as helping your leaders develop a self-aware, authentic style of leadership.

We make this process of self-discovery the cornerstone of our leadership training at Acceleration Partners. Specifically, we dedicate a full session in each training class to helping our new managers develop a list of personal core values.

Core values are the non-negotiable principles that are most important to you. These are the guideposts that key you on track in life; consciously or unconsciously, they drive your most important decision-making. If you do the work to discover your core values, everything in your life makes a bit more sense, and your most important decisions are easier.

To be clear, your core values aren't marketing slogans that present you in the best possible light. These are not aspirational declarations; they describe who you are, NOT who you want to be.

I discovered the importance of core values for myself on a journey that began eight years ago. In 2013, I attended an immersive, intimate leadership training program led by Warren Rustand, a brilliant leader who has become a mentor for me. The program was dedicated to the importance of authentic leadership and personal principles, rather than traditional leadership skills.

That training gave me certainty that I had strong core values but could not define them clearly. I spent the next several months reflecting on the process, creating my own playbook because there wasn't one available. I eventually came to a list of five values:

  • Health and vitality
  • Find a better way, and share it
  • Self-reliance
  • Respectful authenticity
  • Long-term orientation

Clarifying my own core values was the most crucial step I've taken in my leadership journey. I have used my knowledge of my values to make lasting changes in my life and business and have applied those principles when making key decisions with my time, energy and relationships.

One of my favorite examples of this was the creation of my Friday Forward newsletter. It began in 2015 as a weekly note to my team at Acceleration Partners, which was about 40 people at the time. When my team responded well to the posts, and began forwarding them to family and friends, I decided to take the newsletter public.

In the early days, I got questions about why I invested so much time and energy into Friday Forward, when it didn't drive revenue for, or really relate to, our business. I realized it was an encapsulation of my values, especially "Find a Better Way, and Share It." Continuing to write the notes each week felt true to my core, and it felt wrong to give it up. Today, over 250 Fridays later, the newsletter has grown to 200,000 global subscribers and launched my career as an author.

If you don't know your core values, it is similar to driving a car through a dark tunnel with your headlights off. You won't know you have veered out of your line until you've sideswiped against a guardrail and damaged the car.

It's also impossible to lead others authentically without knowing what's most important to you. Core values help us determine what's most crucial for us and communicate those beliefs to the people we lead.

For example, if a manager knows they have a core value of "Build Trust," they will need to be clear with their employees that little things like being late to meetings, being inaccessible for long stretches of the workday, or missing deadlines may erode trust on a deeper level than they realize. Without this degree of awareness, the employee might not understand the impact of these actions and the manager might not make their expectations clear, leading to avoidable problems.

Developing a repeatable process any person can use to identify their core values is one of the best things we've done to improve our leadership training. This method has yielded excellent results, including several personal and professional breakthroughs for our team members.

One particular example sticks out in my mind. We had a new manager who, in considering the questions posed in the session, realized that, as a child, they were highly impacted by a parent's lack of self-awareness.

It wasn't until they did the core value exercise that they realized a key truth: self-awareness was a non-negotiable principle for them, and when team members showed a lack of self-awareness, the manager was likely to overreact. Knowing this core value allowed them to communicate this to their team and illuminated the same pattern in other areas of their life.

Having seen the impact core values had on my own life, and on our employees, I began to write frequently on the topic. Friday Forward and my 2019 book, Elevate, cover the importance of core values in detail, especially as they pertain to building our spiritual capacity, or our understanding of who we are and what we want most.

Not surprisingly, this topic strikes a chord with readers. Most people who learn the importance of core values want to discover their own. In fact, the most common question I get from readers, and audiences I speak to, is about how to start the discovery process.

Top performance in all facets of life — work, family, community and especially leadership — stems from self-awareness. Getting clarity on your core values, and helping the people you lead do the same, is the best step you can take to make a greater impact in your life and career.

This process, which I've developed and refined over years, was not something that could be shared in an email or post-presentation answer. But having seen the impact this exercise has on our team, I've been determined to share it more widely. To that end, I've developed an hour-long course that walks learners through a detailed exercise to discover and develop their core values. The course details the importance of core values in life and business, explains the best way to phrase and test a core value, and uses detailed questions, guided reflection, and a rubric of validating criteria to help you create and refine a written list for yourself.

If you haven't discovered your own core values, don't waste any more time. Start today.

(Robert Glazer is the CEO of Acceleration Partners.)