May 28, 2020


By Chris Westbrook

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused an upheaval in your life by forcing you into isolation, this time of seclusion can be valuable for reflecting on how you want to live your life going forward, including whether you are living in a way that demonstrates your values in life, and especially through your work.

In a way, COVID-19 has given you time to reassess the values you bring to your work every day. For instance: Does the organization you work for have a mission you strongly support? Does your employer value and recognize what you value?

What Are My Values?

If I did not teach value-based leadership, I might never have paused to articulate my own values. I’m glad I did. Because value-based leadership has helped me prioritize and validate my own life pursuits. With this in mind, I’d like to encourage you to do the same. So, pour yourself a cup of hot coffee or tea, or perhaps another favorite beverage, then find a quiet place and ask yourself, “What drives me forward? What values are core to who I am and how do I seek to live my life?”

The easiest way to identify your values is to reflect on critical incidents in your life.

  • What key moments or experiences have shaped you?
  • What fundamental values or principles were tested and hopefully strengthened?
  • Who are your role models, and what character attributes do they demonstrate?

Negative role models and experiences are useful, too.

  • Who and what has prompted pain or threatened what is important to you?

And as you think about these critical incidents of your life, isolate and write down the values they centered around. Then do a forced pairing among them by saying to yourself, Which of these two values is more important to me? Take the “winning” value and ask that same question relative to the next value on your list. When your list is down to about three, you have your personal core values.

When you finish identifying your top values, you are ready to assess potential employers against them. You will be happiest—and most motivated and successful —if you find an employer that values what you value and then recognizes and rewards those values in their people.

Aligning Your Values With Federal Service

Federal departments and independent agencies each have a mission statement on their website that states their reason for existing. You usually can find them in a section called something like About Us or Our Mission. Likewise, many agencies have vision statements that are intended to inspire their workforce to achieve their mission and create a better organization. Many federal agencies, but not all, even have core values that reinforce both their Mission and Vision statements.

Keep in mind, however, just because a federal agency publicly proclaims its values does not mean its employees hold and demonstrate them. Too many individuals and organizations, whether or not they are in the Federal Government, achieve admirable ends or goals. But these organizations do it through dubious means that do not serve their public or their workforce.

For this reason, you need to take an analyst’s approach to validate an agency’s stated values. You can do this through informational interviews with their employees. Check trusted media sources. Reference some of the various Best Places to Work lists that include federal agencies.

A Mission and Life Fulfilled

I hope this blog has given you food for thought and action. Seek the organization and the mission that aligns with your core values and priorities. There you will find true purpose. And then, as Kahlil Gibran wrote in his great work, The Prophet, you will see that “Work is love made visible.”

To get you started, I’ve selected the following examples of core values:

And one of the best guides I’ve seen to identify your core values is this article from the business and management website, What Are Your Values? Deciding What's Most Important in.

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Chris Westbrook
Assistant Director, Curriculum Development
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