Understanding your personal values is crucial to becoming a better leader and a well rounded person. This is because whether you realise it or not your values are constantly guiding the way that you make decisions. Knowing your values can therefore help you to make choices and act in ways that align with your beliefs and goals – rather than clashing, which can be a source of stress and discomfort.
It takes time to get to know your values, what they mean to you and how they shape your behaviour. This article outlines a number of useful exercises which can help you to identify your values, relate them to your experiences and understand them better.
Identifying your values from scratch can feel like a big task. An easy way to get started is to find a list of values words to work with. You can try circling the top 10 and then gradually narrowing it down to your top five, or ranking all of the values listed in order of importance to you.
You can take this a step further by then defining your principles – how each value gives you a rule or guideline by which to live your life. This is especially useful when certain values have similar meanings (such as empathy and understanding) and are therefore open to interpretation about how you would use them. You can download a free values exercise here.
Take a character strengths assessment such as the VIA Character Strengths Survey. This survey takes about 10 minutes and will provide you with a list of your top character strengths, which can help you to identify your values. It can be useful to compare this to the values that you generated on your own to see if there are any discrepancies. It may be that questions about your beliefs and behaviours highlight different values to the ones you think you demonstrate or would like to live by.
There are many different ways of journalling so it is important not to feel pressured to work in a particular way. Most journals are a collection of your feelings, thoughts and reflections about the events in your life. You can use journalling to help you identify and explore your values.
Identify role models whom you admire and respect. These may be famous icons or people within your personal journey such as mentor or family member. Take some time to reflect on what values they have practically demonstrated. Often the values that we admire in others are the same as the ones we find important. You may like to also think about how the values of this role model have influenced their lives and what you can learn from them.
Values themselves are often framed in a positive light. However, every value can be problematic if it is over used or under used. For example, someone who over uses kindness may put themselves in danger to help others. Someone who under uses power may never set effective boundaries.
Draw a line with the label ‘over used’ at one end and ‘under used’ at the other. Pick out 3-10 values to focus on and place them on the scale. If you feel like any values are over or under used you can reflect further; What impact does this have? What can I do to bring more balance to this value?
Make a list of the activities you participate in on a regular basis and rank them in order of importance to you (not importance to other people or your work!). This can be used in two ways.
1) Look at the activities you engage in the most. What does this say about you and what is important to you? This may reveal or reinforce some of your top values.
2) Check the alignment. Sometimes when you order your activities by importance it can highlight discrepancies between what matters to you and how you actually spend your time. If you find that the activities you spend the most time on are not in line with your values then you can plan to make changes: what leads me to engage in this activity? How can I reduce this activity / increase another one? What are the challenges in changing my current pattern?
Once you have your list of top values, reflect on some times when you actively demonstrated them. How did it feel? What did you learn from this experience?
You can also identify times when you strayed from your values or compromised on them. How did that feel? What would have helped you to behave in alignment with your values? This can be useful for making sure you enact your values in future.
This can be an effective exercise for work teams, families or community groups. Get each person to create their own list of top values. Then invite open sharing from the group to find out about other people’s top values AND what they mean to them (three people’s definitions of honesty may all be slightly different). This can promote greater empathy within a group and help you to avoid conflict by understanding what matters to others.
You can take this a step further by co-creating a set of group values. This normally draws on the most common values from the individual members of the group.
What makes an ethical dilemma is that there is no easy or universal answer – instead you use your own values and world view to choose a way forward. Exploring ethical dilemmas alone or in a group can help you weigh up how you would respond and which values most influence your decision making. This means that when you are faced with a real-life dilemma you already know your preferences and, where needed, are more ready to challenge any biases that you have.
Some people avoid making time for personal development or reflective processes as they are focused on the ‘productive’ elements of their work. Rather than a luxury, taking time to identify and explore your values is actually an effective investment. By exploring your personal values through these exercises, you will gain a deeper understanding of what drives you and what is most important to you. This understanding will help you be a more effective leader as you will be better able to communicate authentically, navigate ethical dilemmas and make decisions that align with your values and ultimately lead you towards a life that is fulfilling and meaningful.
If you are looking for support to identify or explore your personal values then book in a free coaching consultation. The Self Leadership Initiative helps individuals, teams and organisations to reach their potential by providing coaching, training and facilitation services.