Principles 101: Discover What You Stand For

Principles are your deeply held values; they’re what you stand for. Things like honesty, a sense of humor, perseverance, and strength, are all principles. These are things that you know about yourself, down deep. They show who you are and what you care about (note: things you DO show up in your Superpowers).

Acting according to your principles is the essence of authenticity and integrity. When you’re in sync with your principles — even in the face of resistance or challenge — you’re showing others that they can trust you, and exactly how you can be trusted. 

Your principles are essential to defining your personal brand, and becoming a True Leader requires you to know what you stand for.

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Discovering Your Principles

Make a list of your top 3 to 5 things you stand for. Here’s a short list to get you started: Adventure, Ambition, Balance, Cheerfulness, Clarity, Community, Courage, Decisiveness, Efficiency, Fairness, Flexibility, Hard Work, Impact, Innovation, Kindness, Passion, Reliability, Responsibility, Teamwork, Truth, Wisdom. Of course, this isn’t an exhaustive list, but it’s meant to spark your thinking.

If you hate the idea of a list, there are other ways to access your principles. For instance, take your 5 favorite characters from books and movies. What do you like about each one? How do they act? What do they have in common? Answering these questions will help you identify the characters’ principles. And they’re likely to match up with things you value in yourself.

To test out your principles, fill in this sentence with your top 3, and see if it feels right: “I stand for <principle 1>, <principle 2>, and <principle 3> in everything I do.” If it works, that’s awesome! If not, find 3 principles that really resonate with you and that feel represent your true self.

Now that you have your list, take a few minutes to clarify your principles. What do they mean to you? The same word can have different meanings — this is your opportunity to get clear on what you stand for.

Well done! You can use these principles in all sorts of ways. Knowing where you’re in alignment with your principles and where you’re out of alignment is a great start.

Principles Alignment

We are drawn to people, organizations, and even books or other things that share our principles. When people and organizations align with your principles, you’ll feel good — fulfilled, even. 

People

The people you most like to spend time with will likely share at least one highly-ranked principle with you. For example . . .

  • One of my close friends shares two top 10 principles with me: Equality and Collaboration. We love to work together on projects that have themes around equality. Our discussions are deeply satisfying because we’re in harmony.
  • Another friend and I share the Productivity principle. She’s the one I seek out when a meeting is particularly non-productive — I know she’ll be as frustrated as I am! 
  • And I absolutely adore chatting with another friend about our kids; we share Family Orientation as a key principle.

Organizations

When organizations share principles with us, we often want to join them or do business with them. And when an organization’s principles align in both actions and words, the organization comes across as more authentic. Here are a couple of examples:

  • A non-profit based in my hometown has a mission to serve women, and they are doing that through a nationwide network of young people. Because our principles line up, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to work with them.
  • My daughter was exploring universities to study environmental science. One school made a big deal about their commitment to sustainability on their website, which she thought was cool. When she visited the school, the food in the cafeteria featured organic vegetables grown at the school’s farm, recycling and composting was featured, and there were no trays (students had petitioned the administration to remove them, due to the water and energy it took to clean them). The alignment of the sustainability principle from the curriculum to the website to the campus made a powerful impression on her, and she chose to attend the school.

Principles Conflict

When you find yourself feeling judgmental, chances are good that whatever it is you’re judging is in conflict with your principles. Your principles are intensely personal, though, so the things that infuriate you will be, too.

Chefs and gourmands will likely be more offended by careless restaurant cooking than others might be; judges may react more forcefully to people lying, artists to things that are not esthetically pleasing, and veterinarians to animal cruelty. 

If you meet someone who doesn’t share at least some of what you stand for, it’s hard to find common ground, and you may not want to spend time with them.

From an organization perspective, if your principles don’t align (or actively conflict) with those of an organization, you may not want to have anything to do with it. And when organizations acts in conflict with their own stated principles, they comes across as inauthentic.

Once you discover your principles, you’ll start seeing them all over the place. When you read a book or watch a movie, when you’re in a meeting, at a sporting event, or even sitting in traffic, there they are!

What’s the principle that’s most important to you? Tell us about it in the comments below!

 

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