Capacity Building Resources:

Starting at the Center: Personal Strengths, Values and Vision

As leaders who want to make a difference, one of our first commitments must be to our own development.  We are the center, the instruments of our work in the world.  We must keep ourselves finely tuned.  We must remain tuned to our own internal wisdom ~

  • to what we know and can know, because we are a part of the whole
  • to what we know and can know, because we are part of the continuum of time – from past, to present, to future.
boitumelo matlala

Boitumelo Matlala

The inner work of reflection and insight is our source.  It is how we remain grounded and centered, focused on what is important to us, so that we are not distracted by irrelevant voices and situations.  It is how we maintain our values and vision when we are in challenging times.

Three building blocks are necessary for enhancing our Personal Leadership.  One of those is honest acknowledgement of those qualities we really like about ourselves, and the skills and knowledge we have.  Another is clarity about our own values, what is most important to us.  The third is discerning our vision, developing an unmistakable sense of our purpose, our intention, our objectives. Profound confidence emerges out of this combination of our personal strengths, values and vision.

Personal Strengths:

As you reflect about who you are, what descriptive words come to mind?  Are you creative?   Responsible?  A good listener?  An organizer?  Musically talented? Skilled at numbers and math?  A caring friend? Thoughtful? Persuasive? A good cook?

QuoteThink about how your good friends would describe you.  Often we take for granted those qualities or skills that seem easy to us, when actually they may be our biggest assets.  Write down at least 25 personal strengths.  Yes, you have many more than that, but choose at least 25.  Think about how significant these qualities are to your family and your community.  Understand the value you bring to the world.  As author and activist Marianne Williamson reminds us, our playing small does not serve the world.  Remind yourself to remove the words “I’m just a  . . . . .” from your speech.  Own your strengths.  Leverage your strengths.  Jasmine Keel, a coach and consultant in Beijing, counsels her clients that each person has a social responsibility to bring her or his gifts to the world.  They are what you were given, and they are how you contribute to the world.

From your list of 25 strengths, select the 5 to 10 that are the most central to you.  When you have reflected on your personal strengths, and identified those that seems most important, the question to consider is “How are these strengths showing up in my life right now?”  How am I using my strengths?  How am I contributing them to my family, my community, my professional work?

And the next question is:  “How else do I want to use my strengths?”  In what other ways might I contribute my gifts?

As you visualize this planet on which we all live, and realize that every person on the planet has gifts to contribute, recognize that as we each share our unique gifts with one another, we create a better world for all of us.

Personal Values:

QuoteNot only do we each have unique personal strengths, we each embrace important values that guide our decision-making and influence how we invest our time and energy.

What is most important to you?  Is it being an honest, authentic person?  Is it family?  Is it security?  Is it the opportunity to serve others?  Is it autonomy?  Perhaps it is survival.

The most accurate reflection of our values is usually revealed when we examine our actions – how we spend our time, our energy and our resources.  We may say that we value diversity, for example, but if we’ve spent most of our time in the past year with the same people, engaged in the same kinds of activities, it is doubtful that diversity is an important value to us.  We may say that we value independence, but if we find we lean on someone else every time we are challenged, or blame others when things “go wrong,” we should question whether or not we really value independence.

Have a look at the following list of values; add others that come to mind.  Then select the three that seem most important to you.  Write them down.  Think about what each value looks like when it is guiding your decisions.

Honesty, Integrity
Service to Others
Belonging, Personal Relationships

Put your list of three away and go on about your life.  In a month, or six months, take the list out again and consider:

  • how has each of these values guided me?
  • is each one still important?
  • if so, would I make different choices in the future in order to live more in alignment with that value?
  • are there other values that seem more important to me?

As you reflect, adjust your list of values if that seems needed, or envision different actions that honor the values you’ve chosen.

Our personal strengths, and our values – – – – – these are the source of our energy and our influence.  When we are struggling to develop strengths because someone else thinks we should be able to do something, our motivation lags.   When we say we value something, but it really isn’t what we resonate with most deeply, our energy is not fully called out.  However, when we are using strengths that are our own, that we love using, and in service to values that are most important to us – we speak and act with confidence and enthusiasm, and others are drawn to our energy!  This is the “juice” of our life!

Personal Vision:

Whether we are seeking clarity about our life purpose or exploring a dream or desire to make a difference in a particular situation, discerning our personal vision requires the willingness and ability to tune in powerfully to our own intuition.  The circumstances exist outside of us, but it is in paying attention to our inner response to those circumstances, or to our own dream, that we either see clearly, or get clues that enable us to envision a future that we want to create, a possibility we want to actualize.  As we become more and more clear about our strengths and our values, it is easier to note our passion and discern our personal vision.

As we bring together our strengths and our values – sparks are created, and we learn to discriminate.  We begin to recognize what generates energy within us, and what drains our energy.

QuoteWhat is it that captures your attention?  Your imagination?  What concerns you most deeply?  If you could create one change in the world, what would it be?   Believing ourselves helpless, means we are ignoring both our strengths and our values.  We are powerful beyond imagination.  The delight is that there is no “evaluation” of what makes a good vision.  Your vision is what taps into your energy, manifests your values, excites and satisfies you.  It may be that your vision is about being a genuine, authentic human being.  It may be that your vision is ensuring safety at the community playground.  It may be that your vision is to elect public officials that are honest and trustworthy.

Here is an exercise that may help you clarify your vision:

  • identify a situation or condition that you would like to change
  • imagine the change you would like to make – as vividly as possible
    • write out, or describe to a trusted friend, how you would go about leading that change or how you would participate in creating the image you can see in your mind
  • write down in a sentence or two the change you envision and your role in bringing it about.

We tend to grow toward the images we hold in our mind.  Thus, imagining the change you want, rather than worrying about the situation that currently exists, is a powerful way of tuning in to ways of moving toward the vision you see.   It engages our subconscious, as well as our conscious mind.  It links our desire and our action.

The potency, vibrancy, magnetism of our leadership grows out of this fullness of who we are.  Our strengths, values and vision combine to create our powerful and unique contribution to this world.  No one else can do what you can do.

Focus on our vision connects us to the world outside of us. It is in pursuing our vision that we bring our strengths and values to the world.  Since most visions cannot be accomplished by one person, focus on our vision causes us to recognize that the impact of our leadership depends on how effectively we can work with others. Determining who else shares a similar vision, communicating with others to explore various perspectives, needs, and ideas, recognizing that my vision might be a small part of a larger community vision, realizing that I care about others’ visions – all of this reveals the necessity for connecting with others.  This awareness reinforces our desire to effectively lead groups and teams.

Connecting across Race and Culture (Resources added October, 2020):

Powerful leaders understand that the essence of their effectiveness is engaging in their own inner work. The 2020 pandemic and the tensions it prompted highlight this necessity. Awareness of one’s own strength, limitations, biases, patterns of thinking and acting ~ and the ability to center and ground oneself ~ is necessary in order to see and connect with others in an authentic way Following are useful resources as we continue our on-going growth as leaders.

  • For White readers, Robin Diangelo’s book, White Fragility, offers a challenging “wake-up” call. As a white woman, with over 20 years of experience as a consultant and trainer on racial and justice issues, in a variety of institutions and sectors of society, she speaks with insight and compassion about white supremacy.   She is not referring to hate groups..  She is describing “the overarching political. economic and social system”  (p. 28) which centralizes and privileges whites as a group.

Through sharing their own stories, Ta-Nehisi Coates and Ibram X. Kendi reveal what the experience of being black is for many Americans.

  • Between the World and Me (Coates) is written as a letter to his adolescent son. He takes readers on an intimate journey of what it is like to live in a black body including how to remain safe and how to make sense of one’s self in the world.
  • How to be an Anti-racist (Kendi) is a well researched and well written description of racism and why it is essential to be an anti-racist if we expect this inequity to change. Written from the perspective of his own life journey, Kendi highlights the many ways in which racism is a system, that is maintained through the intersection of power, culture, biology, class, gender, and other forces.

In My  Grandmother’s Hands, Resmaa Manakem challenges readers to acknowledge that all of the well-intended efforts to address white supremacy (he uses this phrase to mean “seeing whites as the norm”…) in the U.S. have been cognitive–based.  We heal,” he contends, “primarily in and through the body, not just through the rational brain.”  Drawing on both the wisdom of elders in his life and very new scientific research in neuroscience and somatic healing, he engages readers in healing inner trauma embedded in our bodies.  He challenges us to “grow up,” to be individuals living together, creating thriving community day by day;  he shares practical strategies to support our “growing up.”