How to Discover Your True North Values

Every leader should be clear on his or hear true north values. Such values aren’t the essential values every believer should embrace like keeping the ten commandments, obeying the golden rule, or living out Jesus’ great command and great commission. Rather they are more nuanced ones that deep down capture the essence of the real you. These values should so infuse our souls that nothing external can cause us to compromise them. Granted, they might be aspirational, ones not yet fully developed. Nevertheless, they would describe the authentic, Christ-honoring you to which you aspire. Here’s a way to discover them.

3 initial steps to prepare:

  1. Seek input: Ask a few close friends, co-workers, and/or family members to write their response to this question. In your experience with me, what do you see are my core strengths, passions, gifts, and competencies?
  2. Plan a personal retreat: Block out a full half-day mini-retreat in your schedule to be alone. Better yet, schedule an overnight retreat for even more time to discern your values. Bring your Bible, pen, paper, and your computer. Also, bring any personality or leadership inventories you may have taken, as well as the above feedback from your friends and family.
  3. Pray: Recruit two or three prayer partners who will pray for you as you seek God’s will about your values.

Steps for your discernment retreat:

At your discernment retreat, you’ll notice eight parts to include. If you’ve scheduled a half-day, you can plan for about 30 minutes for each part. If you’ve scheduled an overnight retreat, you’ll probably want to take an hour or so for each part. The goal for each step is to create a list of ten or less themes, words, or concepts for each category. Then you’ll combine them into your final list.

  1. Delights: Ask yourself, “What truly delights me? What do I love doing? What do I do that I enjoy so much that I seem to lose track of time when I do it?” Write down less than ten thoughts and ideas on a piece of paper.
  2. Past: Think over your past. Write down answers to these questions.
    1. When you were a kid, what was fun? Where did you get your joy? What did you like doing more than anything else? What themes do see emerging?
    2. Move now to high school and then to college and ask the same questions.
    3. Combine your themes into a list of not more than ten.
  3. Peak Performance: Think now of when you are at your best. Write down your answers to these questions.
    1. Think of peak moments in your life or career, those moments when you feel that you did your very best work or made your greatest contribution or difference. Why were those peak moments? What was true about you? What was ignited in your soul? Do you see any themes emerging?
    2. Last week when were you at your best? Why?
    3. Last month when were you at your best? Why?
    4. Last year when were you at your best? Why?
    5. Approach this from the opposite direction. When are you not at your best?
    6. List words that describe you when you were at your best in your peak moments from your exercises above. List no more than 20. Now narrow that list to no more than 10. Play with those words a while until you get colorful, descriptive words that describe you when you are at your best.
  4. Heroes: Think of those in your past or present that you’d consider your heroes.
    1. What qualities about them prompted you to put them on your list?
    2. Narrow those qualities down to less than 10.
  5. Input from others: Look at the answers to the questions you posed to your co-workers, friends, and family. Make a list of themes, less than ten, that stand out from their comments.
  6. Scripture: Write down the key scriptures or Bible characters that have meant the most to you in your life. Create a list of less than ten themes from those verses and characters.
  7. Inventories:If you brought any personality inventories, make a list of less than ten themes you see from them.
  8. Values list: Finally, look at this list of words/phrases. Circle ten or less that resonate most with you. You may start with a longer list and then pare it down to less than 10.

Creativity   Accomplishment   Accuracy   Acknowledgment   Adventure 
 Aesthetics   Authenticity   Beauty   Balance   Challenge   Collaboration   Community   Compassion   Competition   Comradeship   Connectedness   Contribution   Directness   Diversity Diligence   Elegance   Empowerment   Excellence
   Fast pace   Focus
   Forward the action   Free spirit
   Freedom to choose   Full   Fun   Growth   Harmony   Health   Honesty   Humor
  Independence   Integrity   Joy
   Knowledge   Lack of pretense   Leadership   Lightness   Nurturing   Orderliness   Participation   Partnership   Peace   Performance   Personal power   Physical challenge   Precision   Productivity   Recognition   Reflective   Risk taking   Romance   Safety   Self-Expression   Service   Sensitive   Spirituality   Success   To be known   Tradition
   Trust   Variety   Vitality   Wisdom   Zest

Combine and reduce themes to 10 or less: So by now you have eight lists of ten or less themes/words per list. You’ve done a lot of great work. Now it’s time to prayerfully begin combining the lists into one final list of ten or so words and phrases. That final list will give you a great idea about your unique true north values. Wordsmith that final list into phrases or concepts that resonate with you.

Add key scriptures if you want. Prayerfully commit to the Lord to live out these values. Ask Him to help you hone them the rest of your life.

Finally, record these in a way that will remind you to often revisit them. Print them and put them in your bible, on the refrigerator, or store them in a computer file that you review regularly.

What has helped you discover your true north values?

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Taken with permission from People Pleasing Pastors: Avoiding the Pitfalls of Approval Motivated Leadership, IVP, 2014, Charles Stone.

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