Your Core Values And Why They Matter
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Your Core Values And Why They Matter

Personal values, core values, or just values. On the surface, this may sound like such a soft, squishy concept, but your personal core values are a powerful foundation for your sense of identity and personal growth.

Let me start by explaining what I mean when I talk about values. I am referring to the deep beliefs we have about what is important to us, about the person we want to be, and the life we want to live. When we are living according to these core beliefs, our lives have purpose and we feel more grounded, satisfied, and content.

However, things feel very wrong when the way we live is disconnected from our values. If we feel like we have to put on a mask or a suit of armour in order to get through the day, this can be a genuine source of unhappiness. That’s why it is important to know and understand your core values and why they matter for your life and your leadership.

So here are a few pointers on how to connect with your core values and start living a life of purpose and authenticity.

Take Time To Reflect

Schedule a quiet moment to reflect on the questions below. These prompts will help you explore the core beliefs at the heart of every decision and how you live your life. Make a note of all the values that come to mind and create a long list of your core values.

  1. Imagine that you have no constraints at work, at home, or in your personal life. What do you really want from your life? 
  2. If you were to wake up tomorrow morning and by some miracle, your life was exactly the way you wanted it to be, what would that look like?
  3. Looking at your life and how you want it to be, what do you want to be known for? 
  4. On your best day, what sort of person, employee, or leader do you want to be? 
  5. What is important to you in the relationships you want to build in your company, your community, or at home? 
  6. Consider the people you most admire. What qualities do they have that stand out for you? What are the shared values?
  7. In your workplace and your role as an employee or a leader, what is your contribution to the company core values and culture?
  8. Which of the company values do you stand behind, and which ones do you tend to dismiss? 

Home in on What’s Important 

I’ll hazard a guess that the list you have created from the reflection exercise above is pretty long. Is it possible to live each of those values in a consistent and authentic way? Probably not. This is where the importance of prioritisation comes in. One way to sort out the strong core values from your long list is to start at the top of the page and ask yourself: 

If I had to choose between the first and second personal core values on the list, which one would I cross off?

Make your decision and continue the comparison between the next two values, and onwards until you reach the end of the page. You may come across two values which you feel are equally non negotiable, and that’s fine. It is your choice.

Continue editing your list, then start again at the top of the page and repeat the process until the five to ten most important values remain uncrossed. Are these really the values that give your life purpose and direction? How confident are you that these are the ones you cannot live without? These last questions are a good way to validate your choice. 

Stand Up For Your Values

Knowing your personal core values is one thing, but being able to stay true to them, especially when you are under pressure, is another thing altogether. Start by recognising the situations that seem ambiguous, or out of your control, or those moments that trigger self-doubt. These are the times where standing by your core values can feel like a really tough decision. 

But if you are not standing by your values, what is driving those choices instead? 

Try this reflection exercise to process one such situation:

Think about the last time you felt you compromised on your strong core values. How did that happen? Who was with you? What was your intention? How did you ultimately decide? What made you feel you had let yourself down? Which of your core values were compromised? What would you do differently today?

Know How To Pick Your Battles

Being true to your core values when faced with important choices is also about knowing where your boundaries are. When negotiating shared values, what are you saying yes to and what are you saying no to? When is the time to stand strong and when is it more appropriate to find a compromise? Managing your boundaries is also about communicating those guiding principles clearly and respectfully to others. This sometimes creates a dilemma for ourselves and may even increase the risk of conflict or disagreement with others. 

It takes courage and leadership to stand up for yourself and defend what you think is important, whether it is an organisational value or a personal core belief. Whether you are an employee lower down the organisational hierarchy or a senior executive, standing up as a dissenting voice is incredibly courageous.

But keep in mind the cost of not speaking up and not responding if others knowingly or unknowingly breach those guiding principles. What impact will that have on you or the company culture? Is that a price you are willing to pay?

Keep an open mind

Just as we grow and develop as human beings, our core values can also evolve over time. There may be common themes running through that process, but the set of values that were important for you when you were growing up are probably quite different from those during your student years or the ones you value today. It is important to keep an open mind and allow yourself to see and experience the world in new ways as you learn and expand your wisdom. Also, have the self-awareness to recognise old ways of thinking and behaving that you need to leave behind. The personal value that you treasured in the past may have lost its worth for you today. Don’t continue to carry that into your future life.

PRO TIP: Allow Your Values To Guide You

When we know our values, we have a compass with which we can navigate the countless decisions we make about our lives and our leadership. Our values enable us to consider the costs and the consequences, weigh up the pros and cons so that we can move towards the goals that we desire. 

Core values are different to goals in that they set our direction, while goals are the destination. Once achieved, you can cross off a goal from your list, but your values are more or less a constant, ongoing process. Allowing yourself to be guided by your values will enable you to live your life in a more balanced, authentic, and purposeful way. That does not mean that everything will be easy. Life will always have ups and downs, but living in line with your values will enable you to grow and develop in ways that will make you more resilient, more tolerant and better able to bounce back from adversity.


Life Values Inventory, Free Online Assessment

Video animation on how to work out your personal values

David Brooks’ TED Talk: Should You Live For Your Resume Or Your Eulogy?

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