Managing Yourself: Values

Clarifying your personal core values is a key step to developing as a leader. Core values are the actions and behaviours we appreciate so deeply that we can’t help but behave in those ways. We are what we do, and we behave how we believe. Unearthing the language to express these beliefs further strengthens our resolve and allows us to lead with clarity. When tough choices must be made, we can be guided by our values and explain our reasoning based on them.

There was a time when many North Americans had a similar set of values driven by religious traditions. Values of humbleness, service, and the golden rule were all part of this ethos. As the popularity of these traditions have declined in recent decades, so too has peoples’ understanding of their own personal values. Some call for a return to religious roots but others believe a more secular approach can be as or more effective.

What are your core values? For some, putting language around their values is a surprisingly difficult thought exercise. If it’s worth it to you, start here:

  1. Search “personal values list” on the web to get the creative juices flowing.
  2. Select 10 words you believe represent your core values. You don’t have to start with 10 but most people have trouble even narrowing it to that.
  3. Narrow the list further to five. Five is also not a magic number, though more than five starts the question as to whether they’re “core” to your being.
  4. Using your own language, define the core values you have chosen. This isn’t about going to the dictionary. Use your own interpretation of the words.
  5. Write down some examples of events in your life where these values have been shaped or tested.
  6. Ask some trusted advisors (e.g. family, friends, or colleagues) if your chosen words reflect their experience of you.
  7. Walk around with them for a bit. Look for examples of your behaviour that test their mettle. Refine as you go.

It’s important to note that aspirational values are not the same as core values. You may want to be humble, reliable, or kind but your behaviour may not demonstrate these traits. Go ahead and choose an aspirational value to focus on too if you like. With attention and reinforcement, it may become core.

Know thyself, goes the adage.

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Written By:
Tara Landes

Tara Landes is the Founder and President of Bellrock. She has spent over 20 years consulting and training in small to medium-sized enterprises. A sought-after speaker on a wide range of business topics, Tara has delivered workshops and seminars at conferences and industry associations across Canada. Tara obtained a BA (Honours) in Political Science from the University of Western Ontario (UWO) and earned an MBA from UWO's Richard Ivey School of Business.

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