Understanding your core values – at work and at play
Why do you need to know what your values are? We contend
that having a clear understanding of what your values
are gives you clarity about your own boundaries.
It helps you to be clear on what is important and what
is not; so that you have the confidence to make difficult
decisions quickly if that is necessary. In a sense you
are doing your homework - preparing for a time when
you don’t have much time to consider alternatives
or when all the alternatives you could decide upon are
very difficult. You not only become more agile in your
response and leadership, you feel more confident (and
consistent) about the decisions and choices you make.
Communicating these values clearly to your colleagues
and teams enables them also to make better decisions
within this “framework of values” leading to
greater consistency and integrity throughout the organisation.
They can then operate within the framework of ‘Commander’s
We do a lot of work with leaders and their teams in
helping them not only to articulate their values, but
also to live them because people and organisations
that do so are not only more agile, they are more effective,
less toxic and more profitable. Here is a simple exercise
that you can do to coach yourself through ‘uncovering’,
articulating and confirming what your fundamental values
In Newsletter No. 1 (click
here to see it), we
talked about your need to be self aware before you can
manage yourself. Only then will you become more aware
of others and manage your relationship with them. Understanding
what your values are and what values drive your leadership,
is part of becoming self aware.
Let’s start by examining how you spend your time. We
call this exercise ‘A Day in the Life’
A Sample Day in the
||Av. Hrs /Day
|Meals with family (including preparation)
Next, draw a pie chart and fill it in. Think about what
this means to you.
- How are you spending your time?
- Is the majority of the time spent on things that
are important to you?
- Does anything jump out at you?
- What is missing from your day?
- What are you communicating (with your actions) about
yourself as a leader and about what is important to
- What are you communicating to your family and friends
about what is important to you?
- Does this match up with your values?
From this you can start to think about the values that
drive your leadership. This is a time for reflection
and perhaps journaling (writing your reflections in
a journal) if that works for you. In thinking about
which values are your drivers, keep questioning what
lies behind each value and what lies behind that, going
deeper and deeper until you reach the fundamental values
that are dearest to you. This is likely to be no
more than 3-5 basic
values that are at your core, are very personal to you,
that you are passionate about.
From a Google search, the definition of ‘values’
is: beliefs of a person or social group in
which they have an emotional investment (either for
or against something).
And further: In general, important and enduring
beliefs or ideals shared by the members of a culture
about what is good or desirable and what is not. Values
exert major influence on the behaviour of an individual
and serve as broad guidelines in all situations.
For instance, one of my deeply held values is around
being authentic. I know that when I am unauthentic in
any way, I feel deeply uncomfortable and come across
as not being aligned. At the same time, it can be very
uncomfortable to be authentic too! It means that I will
say ‘I don’t know’ if I don’t, or tell a client that
I’m not the best person to help in a particular area
(if that is true). So being authentic requires courage;
for me the courage is a measure of how I live one of
my fundamental values.
Another of my values is contribution - I look to make
a difference in the world and make the world a better
place for all. I would like to be useful and add value
for others and am quite passionate about this. So, for
example, it immediately felt right to grasp the opportunity,
at the end of 2008 when the financial crash was at its
lowest point, to become part of a new movement for change,
Creating Futures - Beyond Profit (see
link in Links section), whose vision is to “[harness]
the questioning momentum across the globe to enable
significant change in our financial systems, the way
we do business, the way we lead our businesses and our
lives”. We have to change, but it needn’t be toxic if
we all do what we can.
Living my values means having a deep respect for others
and treating everyone, regardless of who they are, with
respect. It means listening deeply. It means seeing
the hero in each person. It means enabling others to
develop and shine if I can help in any way. It means
never forgetting that this is what I am here in service
This is not to say that I always behave with the highest
integrity! But it is something I work towards. And if
I don’t respect this value, if I don’t keep to it, I
feel deeply uncomfortable. Perhaps not immediately,
but it will nag at me until I reflect and see where
I have crossed that value boundary. It means things
like looking the people who serve me in the eye when
they are doing so and acknowledging them as people.
It means treating them with respect, perhaps even using
their name when I address them. It means knowing people’s
names at work, the security staff, the receptionists,
and the staff in the restaurant, not just the colleagues
I work closely with.
Values often go hand-in-hand. You could argue that Integrity
is a principle or way of behaving. And you can argue
that integrity means ‘doing what you say you will’ but
for me it also means being ethical and honest and because
of that, it too is one of my fundamental values.
The importance here is for you to be clear
about what you mean and therefore where your boundaries
are. And to think about what you will do if they are
crossed or threatened. Do the values discovered in the
exercise above suggest that those that matter for you
as a person differ from those you have as a leader in
your organisation? If they are different – why? Does
this lead to stress, inconsistency? Why can’t you take
your values to the office? What would be the benefit
to the organisation if you did take your values to the
office? How could you and your organisation benefit
from having a common set of shared values?
To do this in organisations, each person must first
be quite clear about what their own values are and how
they align with the organisation’s values. Then there
are several ways we could work, but all of them involve
working as a team to uncover what the organisation is
in service of, what its highest purpose is (by this
I mean the top purpose which encompasses the rest),
what the guiding values need to be in order to achieve
that purpose and whether or not the team’s values align
with what the organisation’s values need to be. Organisations
that wish to make the most of understanding their values
do this work to discover and articulate shared values
with the entire organisation, not just with a top team
cascading their ideas down to the rest.
We are very interested to hear what you discover and
invite you to share examples of your personal core values
and if you know the values of your organisation, how
aligned with your own they are.
If you are interested in doing some value work with
your business, then get in touch: we are happy to help
you learn how to become a more agile, effective and
� Patricia Lustig, 2009