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Journey – Moral Compass

What is that island I can see? My wife and I stood at John O Groats looking out to sea. It was a third of our way through our adventure of the NorthCoast 500 trip. We knew that the islands that we could see were the Orkney Islands but we were trying to work out which ones we could see from our position at the famous John O Groats sign post. Whilst the bagpipe player continued his rendition, I reached down for my mobile phone and selected the ‘compass’ App. A quick movement of the phone and I had my bearing for North. Switching to google maps, we were able to use ‘North’ and the radio mast we could see to work out which one was Hoy, Stroma, South Ronaldsay and Mainland.

Getting our bearings was key to identifying which island was which. For us, on that day standing at the famous lamp post, it was for our own knowledge and satisfaction, but if we had been sailing across to meet someone, knowing your bearings was crucial for setting the right course.

Now, I am sure you are enthralled by a snapshot from my NorthCoast 500 holiday. But, before you worry that I will be like my Grandad and get out a slide projector and subject you to 400 photos of the holiday (yes that did happen every year!), there is a reason for the story. . . Know your north.

My work with leaders, my coaching and training, means I get to hear lots of stories of leadership. The joys and the challenges. Recounts of where the sine curve of life meets the sine curve of leadership and where the journey is often never straightforward or in a straight line. Whether it is a joy or a challenge, one of the key components to long term success and integrity is the importance of knowing your destination, but more importantly ‘knowing your north’. What do I mean by ‘knowing your north’? Well, as my story demonstrates, when you know your north, you can make decisions on what you see and the course you will plot forward. This is important for every decision, but most importantly when there are moral challenges. Knowing what your values, core principles and your non-negotiables are can act as a reference point to base your decisions on.

In my coaching work, I like to start by helping leaders by helping them confirm their purpose and their 3 core values. When you know these that can act as that reference point. For example, my purpose is to ‘empower’. So, when deciding on a project, I can ask myself, “will this empower people?” When deciding on how to deal with someone who perhaps is not performing, I can ask, “what action that I take will empower them?” By knowing my core values of authenticity and integrity, I can ask myself, “what does being authentic and showing integrity look like in this situation?” They then act like a compass, giving me the bearing to make a decision, a choice or take an action.

I see so many examples of when leaders have made decisions without referring to the compass. They look at the map and where they want to go, but don’t take a reference point back to the moral compass. A short cut looks easy, but without checking it against purpose, values and moral absolutes, it can put us in the position of making a moral failure or negatively affecting others.

Any delving into ‘North’, ‘Magnetic North’ and ‘True North’ can begin to confuse if you are not careful. True north is a fixed point on the globe. Magnetic north is the direction that a compass needle points to as it aligns with the Earth's magnetic field. The magnetic North Pole shifts and changes over time in response to changes in the Earth's magnetic core. It is not a fixed point. There is something of value here for us as leaders. It is important to know our values and purpose, those we hold dear. But like ‘True North’ we need to also consider fixed points that must not change as we lead others. These will be moral absolutes. Values and principles like, integrity, honesty, truth and inclusion. We must take care though, as any determined truth twister can gas light these to suit their own needs.

So, how do we ensure that True North is maintained and we don’t try to sway the compass. This is where using coaches and mentors can help. Asking trusted people, who you know will hold you to account, can help you as a check and balance to ensure you have considered if something magnetic is affected your compass.

Like any journey, establishing some things to help you, before you face needing to refer to your compass, is crucial. What can help you? Try these steps:

  1. Take a look at a list of values. An example can be found here, from Brene Brown’s brilliant book, ‘Dare to Lead’. Decide on your core ‘True North’ moral absolutes.

  2. Decide on what is your purpose? This is always good to do with a coach, but if you want to start exploring this, then ask yourself, what is it I love doing? What is it I am doing when I feel in complete ‘flow’? Then keep asking yourself, ‘what is it about that that is important’? Ask that of yourself about 5 times. What word or short phrase do you come up with.

  3. What are your core values? Take the Brene Brown list*. Narrow it down to 2 or 3 words that are the most important to you.

  4. When you face decisions, ask yourself, ‘does this align with my purpose?’ Ask yourself, ‘what does this look like when I make a decision that aligns with my values?’

This may just help you get your bearings, and head in the right direction.

Everyday Leader is here to inspire and equip you. If you would like to explore your purpose or values, you may benefit from coaching with us. If we can help you find a way forward when facing moral dilemmas, through coaching, do make contact with us at


* Brene Brown - Dare to Lead: Core Values


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