Jacinda Ardern, Derek Henderson, Vogue, March 2018

I’ve been interviewing a lot of people for leadership roles lately, and one of the questions I like to ask is: “What are your values as a leader? What are your foundational beliefs about how you want to lead a team?”

It’s admittedly a big question, but one of the most important ones I ask potential leaders. Being a manager or in a leadership role where the careers of multiple humans are in your hands is an enormous responsibility. Bad leaders can degrade trust and quash enthusiasm resulting in low impact, demoralized teams and great people leaving. Strong leaders can motivate people to step up and do more than they thought possible. The biggest privilege of my career has been the small role I’ve played in helping individuals shape careers and make confident use of their super powers.

“People who have a sense of who they are and what matters to them are better positioned to lead with conviction and help their teams weather the inevitable storms.”

One of the best ways to separate weak leaders from strong leaders in the speed dating like interview process is to ask about values. The conversation that ensues reveals how well the candidate knows themself. People who have a sense of who they are and what matters to them are better positioned to lead with conviction and help their teams weather the inevitable storms. Strong leaders have a sturdy foundation to build on. They aren’t afraid to be opinionated about what they think is important because they know organizations that aren’t aligned to their values won’t be a good fit for them. Interviews are a two way street — savvy candidates and interviewers assess one another.

When I ask about values, one of these things often happens:

These answers don’t point towards bad people, but to a worrying lack of introspection and self-awareness, two traits that are critical in a strong leader. Although, of course, I want to hire leaders whose values align with the company, role and team they would be joining, I’m most interested in whether they have invested in thinking about the kind of leader they want to be.

My values

I haven’t always had a firm grasp of my values as a leader and it’s only been in the last few years that I’ve been able to get specific about them. I’ve been fortunate to have access to some wonderful coaches at Shopify and through communities like Mia Blume’s Within that have nudged forward and challenged my thinking. The book Principles by Ray Dalio has also influenced me.

I feel confident that these four pillars are foundational for me, though I’m often fine-tuning the details and reflecting on the principles and practices they inform. I refer to this list often and it helps me make decisions about how to run my team, the direction I give to the leaders who report to me, and when I feel stuck or unsure about the right path, referring to them can help ground and direct me. I also believe that these four pillars lead my teams to the best outcomes and to releasing experiences we can all feel proud of.

Here they are:

Value: Meaning

Principles:

Value: Fairness

Principles:

Value: Creativity

Principles:

Abundance

Principles:

There are lot of things I care about that haven’t made it into my values. For example, last year one of my personal goals was to be more present, which I put into practice by closing down Slack, email, and avoiding distractions while in meetings to focus on the people and problems in front of me. This also meant saying no to meetings that didn’t feel like the best use of my time. Just like with how I apply my values, I was imperfect in achieving this goal, but it’s something I continue to work on.

Great leaders know who they are and what they care about, and they try to live by their values. Knowing what kind of leader you want to be is half of the journey to getting there. If you are or aspire to be responsible for the careers of other humans or for building effective and healthy teams, I humbly recommend that you spend some time figuring out who you want to be and how you want to show up. Without a North Star, you’ll never be able to recognize your destination or have much hope in leading a team there.

Writer and reader. Director of UX for Store Management at Shopify. Formerly designed with words at Facebook. Based in Toronto. http://amythibodeau.com