Know Your Values

gain greater clarity on what your values areWhether you know what they are, your values exist, are part of your unique identity, and guide your decisions, behaviors and actions. Values don’t just define who you are and what you do, but they provide insight into what’s best for you personally and professionally. For example, they can be used as a tool for helping you make career choices, everything from how to handle a work conflict to whether you accept a job or promotion. Great leaders regularly align their values to such choices and rely on them for direction and confirmation. Over time, the practice of consistently aligning values to decision-making, behaviors and actions builds leadership credibility and respect. If you understand and commit yourself to your values, you will increase your chances of achieving your most important goals in life.

It’s quite possible you know what your values are. However, values do change over the course of a lifetime. For example, when you’re younger and perhaps don’t have a family to support, “security” might not be one of your top-three values. But when you do have a family, that value could suddenly become vital.

Whether you’re determining your values for the first time or revisiting them for a status check, here’s a three-step process for getting greater clarity.

Start with a master list of values. You’ve got a general sense of what’s important to you, so make a master list of those values, not worrying about how many you’ve got—let the list go up to 20 or 30 values if you wish. Then, look closely at that list and try to whittle it down to 10 or fewer. This is a process-of-elimination type of exercise.

Ask the right questions. Once you've identified 10 or fewer, it can get a little harder to settle on just a few core values. One of the best ways to do this is to ask a few questions that shed light on what’s core to what you value. For example, when were you the most successful in your life—and why? What need or wish was met? How were you fulfilled? If you were most successful because you won a major account for your company and that goal-achievement significantly boosted your self-esteem, perhaps “winning” is one of your core values. Another good question is when were you the happiest in life or at work—and why? What purpose did that happiness serve? If you were happiest when you were able to use earnings to give back to a nonprofit you cherish, “charity” is one of your values. Because it might be hard to know when you were happiest, you could also ask the opposite question: When were you the most unhappy—and why? The answer will expose what was wrong or offensive at some point in your life or career, revealing a value not being honored in the situation. So if 10 years ago, you were miserable when working hard for someone who consistently failed to recognize and reward your loyalty, then “loyalty” may be one of your core values. Ultimately, you can determine your values by understanding when in life you have felt the most proud, happy, successful or fulfilled.

Accept that values change. You might be surprised to learn what your current values are as well as how they’ve maybe changed over the years. But whatever gets uncovered, try not to judge those values but accept what you’ve found for simply what it is: highly relevant, useful information that’s now available to you as you continue to set goals and pursue directions in both your personal life and work.

What does a mismatch between a core value and an important decision look like?


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