The Core Values

“Daring leaders who live into their values are never silent about hard things.. A value is a way of being or believing that we hold most important. Living into our values means that we do more than profess our values, we practice them. We walk our talk–we are clear about what we believe and hold important, and we take care that our intentions, words, thoughts, and behaviours align with those beliefs.”
~Brené Brown (Dare to Lead, 2018, pp 184 & 186)

The Core Values we have shared throughout this curriculum are meant to be guideposts throughout peer support work. They are sacrosanct to the work. Collins Dictionary defines “sacrosanct” this way: “If you describe something as sacrosanct, you consider it to be special and are unwilling to see it criticized or changed.”

Effective leaders know the importance of core values. Organizations – including post-secondary institutions – that have a well-defined set of core values have clarity of purpose, provide a strong service, and have unity within their teams. Core values that are simply lip service or written on a plaque hanging on the lobby will do nothing to guide a program or agency.

On the other hand, a clearly defined set of values can equip leaders and organizations to be able to make decisions.

Dr. Susan David, a researcher on the topic of emotional agility, talks about how a well-established set of values can support us against social contagion. Social contagion is when we “catch” emotions or behaviours from others. For example, if you are in an elevator and another person riding it pulls out their phone, you are highly likely to pull out yours too. In groups and organizations, social contagion has a strong pull. However, a strong set of values that are known and lived out, protects us from catching behaviours that are not in line with our beliefs.

Values are Foundational

Consider a healthy tree. A tree is only as healthy as its root system. If there is a problem with the root system, the tree will eventually die. Though no one really sees the roots directly, a strong root system is the key to the life of the tree.

Core values are to the success of a program, like the root system is to a tree. As a leader within peer support or in future work, it is important that you know the core values well and use them in your work–to both give direction and to support you to deal with the challenges that will inevitably come.

Make the Core Values Actionable!

As stated above, values that are simply words on a website or plaque are meaningless. We can all likely think of organizations that fail (and some that don’t even try) to live out their core values. If an employee or manager can’t articulate how the core values show up in their everyday work, then the organization’s core values are essentially meaningless.

Values can only impact organizational and program culture if they are integrated into all aspects of an organization or service delivery. This means they need to be actionable! In other words, we need to ask ourselves how our attitudes, choices, and behaviours will be shaped by the core values.

Author and business educator Simon Sinek coaches businesses and organizations to discover their WHY. In his book Start With Why, Sinek talks about the need to ask ourselves “WHY do we do what we do?” Defining our “WHY” is similar to defining our purpose (we will explore that a bit later). Once we are clear on our WHY–that defined purpose shows up in our HOW. The HOW refers to the accountable daily actions that shape our work–actions that are influenced by our core values. In other words, the core values are meant to be a guiding system (like a GPS) for our work.

In Start with Why, Sinek states the following:

It’s the discipline to never veer from your cause, to hold yourself accountable to HOW you do things; that’s the hardest part. Making it even more difficult for ourselves, we remind ourselves of our values by writing them on the wall…as nouns. Integrity. Honesty. Innovation. Communication, for example. But nouns are not actionable. They are things. You can’t develop systems or develop incentives around those things. It’s nearly impossible to hold people accountable to nouns. “A little more innovation today if you would please, Bob.”…For values or guiding principles to be truly effective they have to be verbs…Articulating our values as verbs gives us a clear idea of how to act in any situation. We can hold each other accountable to measure them… (2009)

In this peer support training curriculum, we have given you a well-defined set of core values. It’s up to you and your campus to take those values and make them actionable. If you are – or are working to become -a facilitator of this training program, we can’t stress the importance of this enough.

Here are some examples of what it may look like to make core values actionable in your work:

  • We make Hope actionable by stating something like, “I will speak to the people I support in a way that validates and honours their experience, while encouraging hope and an openness to new possibilities.”
  • We make Acknowledgement actionable by stating something like, “I choose to really see people for who they are, and I commit to listening deeply without trying to fix or save.”
  • To make a Strength-Based approach actionable, we can say, “In my role as a peer support worker, I will choose to intentionally seek out strengths in those I serve because I believe everyone has intrinsic value.”

When we make something actionable, it becomes measurable. That means that at the end of the day, we are able to assess our actions. We can ask ourselves, “How did hope, acknowledgement, and the strength-based approach show up in my work today?” This allows us to adjust as needed and empowers us to grow.


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Post-Secondary Peer Support Training Curriculum Copyright © 2022 by Jenn Cusick is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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