3 Questions for Identifying Your Values

Are you on the road to who you want to become?

Summary
Transcript

At Leadercast Live 2011, Suzy Welch, author and co-founder of the Jack Welch Management Institute, shared three questions for discovering your values:

1. At your 70th birthday party, what would make you cry from regret?
2. What do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room?
3. What did you love about your upbringing and what did you hate?

“These three questions, when you connect them to good decision-making, what happens?” asked Suzy. “What happens is you start living authentically.” Watch the video for more.

Here are three questions that I've found are amazingly effective in identifying your values. So here's the first one, and it's about legacy. Fast forward to your 70th birthday party. If you're there already at 70, go to 75. What would make you cry from regret at that birthday party?

If you think everybody's answering the same way you are in their heads, they are not because I have heard every possible answer to this question. I've heard people say, "I'd cry at my 70th birthday party if I wasn't with my husband. We hadn't worked it out." I've heard other people say, "I'd cry at my 70th birthday party if I was still with that jerk." OK? I've heard everything. I've heard people say, "I'd cry at my 70th birthday party if I blew up the family's company." I've heard people say, "I'd cry at my 70th birthday party if I was still at the same job."

But my favorite answer to this question, just to show you how unique it is, I have a good friend from college. He was incredibly successful in college. Everyone thought he'd go up and be incredibly successful afterward. Twenty years later, he finds himself… he's miserable in a job. He calls me up. He said, "OK, I give in. I'm going to do your 10-10-10. I just can't. I need help."

I said, "Let's start with the values." What would make you cry at your 70th birthday party? Let me tell you that when I asked this question all the time, people pause and they think about it, right? Instantly, he comes back at me and he says, "Oh, I know what would make me cry at my 70th birthday party. The knowledge that my obituary would not appear on the front page of The New York Times." "That? You're thinking about your obituary appearing on the front page of The New York Times?" And he said, "That would make me sob with my head in my hands like a baby."

I said, "Well, Bob, let's just talk about what you're doing in your life. You know what? You're a lobbyist in Washington. If your obituary is in the front page of The New York Times, it's a problem." Here he was, a person who obviously had a gigantic desire to have a huge impact. Such a big impact in life that his obituary would be on the front page of The New York Times, and he's a lobbyist in Washington. If you're doing your job right, no one knows you exist. That's a value. He wasn't living his value of legacy, and your legacy can be have a small impact on your family or very big, but you got to know what it is.

OK. The second question is this one: What do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room? I've heard that I was a great mom under terrible circumstances. I've heard that I'm a kind and fair boss. I've heard, I actually at one time was talking to a fabulous woman, she's a showgirl in Vegas and she looked at me like this was the strangest question she'd ever heard. She said, "Suzy, I don't give a damn." And there's every kind of answer to this about…You know, there's every kind of answer to this question.

One time I was working with a client and I said to her, "OK, you know, we're having all these troubles. Let's just get down to your values." We went through, the first one, we went on to the second one. I said, "Cynthia, what do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room?" She looked at me, thought she was going to have a very profound answer, and she said, "Suzy, in the end, only kindness matters, in the end."

And I looked at her and I said, "Why are you singing at me?" And she said, "Because that's it. That's my whole life. I've had so many bad things happen to me. I've had so many hurts. When I'm not in the room, I want people to only say she's the kindest person who ever lived." She knew it, she knew it, and she had to make every decision by it, didn't she? What a value. She sang it so much better than I did, by the way.

So the last question is this one: What did you love about your upbringing and what did you hate? Now, the first half is really easy. Everyone loves to talk about what they loved about their upbringing. My grandmother made great meatballs, particularly mine did make great meatballs. You know, we played football on Thanksgiving. I mean, there's just, people can tell you all the things they loved about their upbringing.

I was meeting with John Maxwell this morning and we did a little round table and he was reminiscing so much about the positive things about his upbringing. The hard part is when we talk about what we hated. And you know what's really, really hard about it? Is that even when we don't love what something about our upbringing in our lives, we tend to mimic it. We tend to repeat it. It's like a habit.

I remember I had a client and her family was in a terrible crisis because the son wanted to drop out of high school. And I said, "What did you love about your upbringing?" Oh, that was easy. Both husband and wife were talking about this and the summer homes and this and that. And I said, "What did you hate?" And the wife said, "We never said I love you." And she looked at her husband and then he looked at her, and this was a household where no one said, I love you.

OK. Here are these three questions. What would make you cry at your 70th birthday? Back to your legacy. What do you want people to say about you when you're not in the room about your character? What did you love about your upbringing? What didn't you love? These three questions, when you connect them to good decision-making, what happens? What happens is you start living authentically. You stop living the picture. It's not easy, but I can tell you it's so much better than the alternative. And you know why? Because authentic lives end up being very joyous. And joyous lives are authentic.

And you know what the best thing about it is? When you're filled with joy, you start to give it away. Who keeps it when you're happy? You know people who are joyful? They just spread it. That's the big upside. It's not easy. It's 10-10-10 sounds simple, try it. It's hard because you're forced to live by what you really believe. You don't take the shortcuts, but the upside is amazing.

I just had the upside the other day. I had the upside when Ted Mack called me up and he said to me, "Oh, remember when you were 23?" And he started going on and on and on about what I was like at 23. And I was able to say, "Ted, stop this interview. I am not the girl you used to know, but I am on the road to the girl I'm going to become."
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Suzy Welch

Suzy Welch is a noted business journalist, TV commentator and public speaker. A popular Today Show and CNBC contributor, Suzy is the author of the New York Times best-seller "10-10-10: A Life-Transforming Idea," a guide to values-driv...

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