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Understanding and Defining Your Guiding Principles and Values

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Your guiding principles serve as guardrails and filters for difficult decisions and tough choices.

The Ancient Greek aphorism “know thyself” is an oft-cited phrase that can be found in nearly every self-help book ever published. In the earliest known uses of the phrase, Greek playwright Aeschylus uses it in the context that most modern TikTok philosophers would summarize as “Know your role.” Or, more conservatively as, “understand your place in the world.”

Over the course of two decades, and hundreds of interviews with professionals and entrepreneurs, I’ve found that many have difficulty clearly articulating their role in the world – or their industry. Many struggle to succinctly share what they do, why they do it, and who they do it for.

Enter Guiding Principles.

I use the term guiding principles as an umbrella term that covers the Why of the business, the Mission Statement, the Vision Statement, and the Core Values.

These are different for each business, each organization, each founder, and each leader. They are (or should be) deeply personal and serve as the spot on the map that every member of the team can point to and say, “This is where we are going, with whom we are going, why we are going, and how we will get here.”

Here I’ve adapted a portion of the intake interview I conduct with every new client. It is important that we both know where we are and where we are going – to make the journey together.

It is also too important to keep hidden or proprietary.

If you are seeking clarity about your business, passion, or project, I welcome you to use this questionnaire. Answer it thoughtfully. Make revisions. Mull it over. Whatever you do, take action. Your customers depend on it, your team depends on it, and you depend on it.

A Framework for Guiding Principles

Guiding Principles set the standard for behavior and attitude in a workplace. They help shape company culture and provide employees with an idea of what moral values are acceptable, expected, and communicated within the organization.

  1. What does your company do (or hope to do better) than anyone else in the industry?
  2. What is your personal motivation for being in this business?
  3. What are 10 words or characteristics that come to mind when you think about your business?
  4. What are 5 nice things that others have said about your business?
  5. What do you want your business to be known for?
  6. What are the Top 5 pain points within your business right now?

Crafting a Mission Statement

A mission statement is used to explain, in simple and concise terms, the purpose for existing. They are not limited to businesses, many successful leaders, professionals, and entrepreneurs have invested the time to craft a personal mission statement.

  1. What makes you or your organization tick?
  2. What are you about?
  3. What do you deliver (or hope to deliver) on a daily basis?
  4. What does success look like or what does it look like to win?

Casting Your Vision Statement

  1. How do you see your company uniquely positioned within your industry?
  2. Where do you see yourself making an impact?
  3. What path do you see between your current position and accomplishing your mission statement?

Clarifying Your Core Values

Core Values are inherently personal. Unfortunately, I’ve seen many try to skip this step or use generic phrases. Or worse: blindly copy core values from a different company. They are your core values – the filters by which you judge right from wrong, acceptable from unacceptable, up from down.

  1. What are the non-negotiables that will guide you and your team toward your ideal future?
  2. What are the mindsets and behaviors that you want to celebrate and encourage?
  3. What drives you and makes you do what you’ve done to make your business work?
  4. What motivates you each day to love and serve your people and customers?
  5. What values do you want your team to abide by and subscribe to to best represent you and your brand?

Mission Statement vs Vision Statement

Mission Statements and Vision Statements are often confused with one another or inappropriately interchanged. A company’s mission statement is different from its vision. The former remains unchanged and represents who the company is or aspires to be for the entirety of its existence, while the latter outlines what it needs to do in order to remain that way. In effect, a company’s mission serves as their identity and their vision- which changes over time- reflects how they will accomplish this goal; it presents itself with a journey towards accomplishing its objective.

An easy way to remember it: If your mission statement is your purpose, your vision statement is your path.

If your mission statement is your purpose, your vision statement is your path.

As a team of one, it is easy to skip over defining our guiding principles. We usually have some ideas floating around and can spot what is acceptable or unacceptable. But the edges can be fuzzy. When the days get long, it can be easy to lose sight of the Why. When we add a team member, hire a consultant, face a difficult decision with a client, we have done ourselves a disservice by not having these in place.

I said before these serve as a filter. A filter that is already established, one that we can point to and say: This is what we agreed to. This is what I stand for. This is what is important to me.

Your message matters and how you accomplish the mission matters.

All the best,

-Shaun


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