A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
A publication of the Association of California School Administrators
Playing your part in the orchestra of leadership
How to use your values to stay in tune
By Tovi C. Scruggs-Hussein and Nicole Lusiani-Elliott | September | October 2023
As leaders, who’s going to be standing in five years and who won’t be? According to Dr. Brené Brown’s research, it’s the bravest leaders leading in organizations with the most courageous cultures. This starts with knowing who you are and standing firmly in your truth. At this moment in your life, not your home-life or your work-life, just your whole-life (because you are one, whole human living it), what values are at the very core for you? What are the two you stand on — one under each foot — that will both ground and guide your feet as you lead?
Our lives are not separate from our work. We aren’t a work-human and a home-human. Trouble is, we think we are. And in believing that, we bifurcate ourselves and can never truly be powerful leaders because we are always editing ourselves to fit the place where we presently sit. Remembering our fundamental values and showing up in those values through all things big and small, all things work and home. Showing up as one person in all the ways we lead as ourselves, not a construction of what we think others want of us.
As educational leaders and women, so many of us have always been leaders — in high school, in college, in our classrooms, in our schools and in our homes. We had the positions but, looking back, those positions often depleted us instead of empowered us because we were often leading from a place of “hustling for our worth” or “playing nice” instead of centered on our values. It is only when we stop hustling for others and start tuning in to ourselves, do we truly begin to achieve our leadership potential and make an impact, especially in our equity work.
We invite you to imagine with us that we all come to this earth as a part of an orchestra. Our job is to tune our instrument so that we can play our part. Each instrument is so uniquely built that it requires a conscious presence to truly become one with it, so that it plays exactly as it was built to be played. While we need the guidance of others, playing in a way that is informed by listening harmoniously and intentionally to those around us, we are the only ones that can tune our instrument. It is an inside job to which we must attend if we ever want to become a vital and contributing member of this orchestra we call our lives. The question is, what do we use as our tuning fork?
The answer is our values.
In her seminal work, “Dare to Lead,” Dr. Brené Brown says, “Who we are is how we lead.” If we don’t know who we are because we are always so busy hustling, how can we ever stand in grounded confidence and lead our teams?”
If we are going to be able to stay steady no matter who we are leading, we have to know who we are. And to know who we are, we have to know what we value most. To further illustrate this and bring this work closer to home, we will use ourselves as examples. One of Nicole’s most important values is “home,” and not just at home (because she’s one whole person). Work is a place where she wants the people who serve with her to feel like they belong, where they are valued members of her family. She creates spaces that feel like “home.” Her other value is “faith,” and her faith keeps her showing up each and every day to her leadership purpose of coaching teachers to be more inclusive, believing faithfully that her efforts matter and will result in systemic change. Home and Faith say, “You belong here, settle in. I believe in you to do this work.” Nicole’s leadership is rooted in knowing that, above all things, there is no such thing as other people’s children because we belong to one another.
Tovi’s values are “love” and “empowerment.” She was raised by a mama who taught her that if you truly love someone, then you always tell them the truth, no matter what and no matter how hard it is to say or to hear. And with this love, you then say what needs to be said with love. Love is direct so that the love is clear. And to live her life’s purpose of teaching and leading, she believes that empowerment is the way — give everyone what they need, don’t hoard any secrets to the process or the “how” — give all the tools away so we empower and set free any saviorism and we teach others to rely on self. Everything you need is within you — that is empowerment. Love and Empowerment say, “I will prepare you to prepare yourself.” Tovi’s leadership is rooted in preparation for what is to come as humanity heals and becomes more inclusive.
Are you ready to land on your two values?
Brené has an activity on her Dare to Lead hub that helps us sort through what it is we really value most. We encourage you to review the list of values and do the following: Checkmark any and all values that hold any resonance for you.
Go back through the list to identify and circle your top 10 values.
It is only when we stop hustling for others and start tuning in to ourselves, do we truly begin to achieve our leadership potential and make an impact, especially in our equity work.
Of these 10, which might be “umbrella” values? These would be values that may be similar, but one feels a bit more precise or important and can encompass the other one.
Now “star” your top four.
Now, select two of those four to “stand” on. Just two — one for each foot.
Whether you have been conscious of it or not, these values are likely your cornerstones and have been with you your whole life. When you’ve felt something was off, when you felt yourself hustling for your worth, when you felt yourself betraying what you know to be right in service to keeping things “easier” instead of in service of your leadership calling. Your body knew it. It tried to tell you. Did you listen? If not, will you listen now?
We’d like to vulnerably share that honing in on our two values took a few iterations of the process and deep reflection and integration. This might be the case for you, so be gentle with yourself. Land on your two values. If they don’t settle in your bones as 100 percent revisit the activity later and process again. You will eventually land on “yes, these are my two without a doubt.” Trust yourself and trust the process.
We are not one person at work and another at home, we are one whole person. And no matter where we are or what we’re doing, our values are the fundamental notes our instruments play. They should be heard and felt in everything we do. How do your values show up in your leadership? How might you be betraying your values? How might your values become a guiding light for your leadership? Remember, one under each foot, guiding your leadership with each step. This is how we stay conscious. This is how we stay connected. This is how we stay courageous — every step of the way.

Tovi Scruggs-Hussein is a former school principal, leadership trainer and healer, and a Certified Dare to Lead Facilitator. Nicole Lusiani Elliott is an educator, author and teacher educator working for the Center to Support Excellence in Teaching at Stanford University and the Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning.