Leadership is all about working with the people around you to achieve a common goal or vision. This is done through relationship building, motivation, influence and creating the right conditions for people to reach their potential and meet goals. All of these complex interpersonal skills provide leaders with a number of choices to make each day about HOW to approach goals and interactions with team members. Our decision making may be guided by the circumstances we are in and the needs of others, but it will also be largely influenced by our own personal values – which is why it is essential to know what they are.


Before we dig into values, it is worth noting that there is a whole family of related terms in this area. This blog focuses on values, but you may also like to consider reflecting on how the other terms apply to you.

What are ethics?

Ethics is often defined as the process of systemising, recommending and defending concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ behaviour. This occurs at a group level such as within a community, society, culture or country. The end result is consensus across that group about what behaviours are deemed right or wrong – and these can change over time. For example, many countries have changed their laws to say that children cannot be used to perform labour.

What are morals?

Morals are also about the concepts of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ but morals are held at the personal level. Quite often, an individual’s morals match up with the ethical system of the larger society within which they live. However, there can be cases where people’s personal morals do not match the wider ethics. For example, society believes bribery is wrong but the individual is happy to take a bribe. Or society generally eats meat but an individual believes it is wrong to harm animals.

What are virtues?

A virtue is a trait or quality that an individual can hold that is generally considered to be morally good – therefore it comes with a judgement value. This judgement may differ between communities and cultures. For example, one culture may promote the virtue of nobility (well presented, good reputation and status) where another favours humility (less outward focus on the self).

What are values?

Values are personal preferences about what is important to you. Some values may also be considered virtues if it is generally agreed that they are morally good – such as honesty. However, because values are subjective to each person, they may include words that are ‘morally bad’ or ‘morally neutral’ too. Values may include words like; humour, competition, joy or adventure.

What are beliefs?

Beliefs can be described as the system by which you understand the world. A nice way of capturing this is ‘The stories that you tell yourself’. They are often hard to ‘prove’ to be accurate or inaccurate and therefore have a subjective element. In this context, we are talking about beliefs relating to the self, the way the world works, what behaviour is good and what is right / wrong. Examples of beliefs may include:

What are principles?

In general, principles are described as ‘laws of truth’. In the world of science and mathematics principles describe foundational rules of how systems operate and behave which allows people to explain concepts. In this context, we can think of personal principles as the rules which govern the way a person behaves or conducts themselves. Principles relate to all of the other above terms. For example, a number of people may all hold the same value / virtue of honesty but due to differences in their belief systems, upbringing and culture the principles may look different. For example:

All three of these principles will operate slightly differently in action and so defining your principles alongside your values is a powerful exercise.


This blog focuses on values for a number of reasons:

Obviously with more time on your hands it is also valuable to go back through the other terms and reflect on what they mean to you.


Rule them, or they will rule you

As a leader, your behaviour and choices have a direct impact on others. Whether you are aware of it or not, your values will inform the decisions you make and the way you behave. People who are not aware of their values may find themselves making decisions that they later regret – perhaps because they chose an outcome that doesn’t feel right / wasn’t in line with their undefined values. Or because they did choose an outcome that fit with their undefined values but had a negative impact on other group members who share different values.

Being explicit about what your values are allows you to be more intentional when it comes to decision making so that you can ensure that you are at peace with what you decide.

Know your insecurities

All values have their positives and their challenges in the form of insecurities. For example, someone who values kindness may worry about whether they are doing enough for others. Someone who values adventure may find it hard to settle down into a regular routine or worry about commitment. Understanding how your values play into your worries allows you to spot concerns early and take steps to get support or reassure your basic needs – rather than allowing an insecurity to drive you into an action or decision that you later regret.

Set your direction

Leading others is entwined with the practice of setting a compelling vision and the goals to get there. Knowing your values before this process can help you to ensure what both the what (vision) and the how (ways of working) are conducted with your values in mind so that you are less likely to end up in a situation that clashes with your values.

In addition, great leaders get their teams to reflect on their personal values too so that this can help inform the vision.

Attract your crowd

Knowing your values allows you to shout out loud and proud who you are and what’s important to you. Although people may join teams because of the job title or the skills required, the reason people stay in teams is the culture of the group and the behaviour of the leader. Communicating your values clearly as early as possible helps people to make informed decisions about whether they want to work with you. This can seem daunting – you will not be everyone’s cup of tea. However, in the long run if you attract people who have a similar value set to yourself (but with diverse backgrounds, skills etc) then your team will be better equipped to collaborate on the shared vision.

Create your rules

Once you have identified your core values (and tested them for a while to make sure you are certain) then you can step things up a notch by defining your associated principles – the rules that guide your behaviour. This is important as a leader because these form the commitments you make to others about how you will treat them, operate in general and therefore what you might expect from your team.


Identifying your core values is a time consuming and reflective process – but well worth the reflection. Working with your values can uncover interesting reflections about your insecurities, decision making patterns and your goals in life so if you want further support book in a free coaching consultation to discuss your values.

The Self Leadership Initiaitve helps individuals, teams and organisations to reach their potential by providing coaching, training and facilitation services.