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Why knowing your core values matters.

Updated: Apr 25, 2023

It’s difficult to avoid all the material floating around on core values, I have seen many an inspirational quote and suitably accompanying beautiful picture and I confess to having come from a very cynical place on the subject. I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about, and I certainly didn’t buy into the hype that this knowledge was going to change the world, or my life.

Values was one of the first subjects addressed in my coach training and we spent a reasonable amount of time here exploring our own values, coaching, and being coached to gain greater insight. And having been through this process, more than once, I now have an appreciation and respect for how this information can serve us.

In this blog we are going to explore what values are, why it is important and helpful for us to understand our own and how we can begin to uncover them.

What are values?

You may hear them described as your values, your personal values, or your core values; it’s all the same thing. A value quite simply is something that is important to you, it is something that you would stand up for, make a stand for.

Values are not physical things, so for example, your friends and family may well be important to you, and you would naturally stand up for them, but they are not values. Nor are values a set of practices or skills; rather values are principles and beliefs.

I often get asked to give some examples of values, just to help orientate. I have included an exercise later, but for now here are my values as an example: Freedom, adventure, nurture, fairness, achievement. Notice these are not ‘things’… and also know that what these words mean to me and what they signify may not be how you interpret them, your value does not need to be a literal definition of the word you choose, it is a personal memorandum that only needs to make sense for you.

Values are who we are and how we are, and are fundamental to our identity. We can often get caught up in trying to be someone that we feel is expected of us, or someone who we believe will fit in, however when we are being true to our values, we are being our true and authentic self. There is no pretence, no mask, simply us. When we are reflecting on our values it is vital that we are honest with ourselves, stating values that we think we should have, or that we wish we had, does not serve any useful purpose.

Our values are constantly reflected in way we choose to behave. [1]

In the context of an organisation, we often read about corporate or organisational values on a company website. Again, these are the aspirations of the firm on how they want to operate and show up as opposed to rules or processes that are defined in practice. I am going to come back to how knowing an organisations’ values can help us a bit later on.

How many values should I have?

One of the wonderful things about values is that because they are so personal and unique to us, there is no right or wrong. So, what you define as your values and how many values you choose to lay claim to, is completely in your gift.

When I am working with clients, I try to identify something of a shortlist, just to keep things manageable. This normally ends up being around five or six, but often with a few more beyond that, that have significance too.

Having this shortlist means they are easier to keep at the forefront of your thinking and decision making. If you find yourself needing to refer to a list to remember what some of your values are, then perhaps there is some further reflection needed as to whether these are indeed the real value for you. Your true values are big hitting and intuitive for you and as such, when you have consciously identified them, will be easy to bring to mind.

Why are values important?

Values are like lighthouses; they are signals giving us direction, meaning and purpose. Recruiter Journal.

I describe values as your compass. They are your inbuilt, wholly personalised navigation system. When clients come to me for coaching, quite often they cannot immediately identify or articulate what is wrong. They know that something is off and often they are using words such as fed up, exhausted, frustrated, resentful, bored, trapped, imposter, silly, stagnated, and stuck (I could go on for hours!); but they can’t identify why. In many cases outwardly their life “should” be great, nothing is materially wrong at all, and yet there is an increasing gnawing of “wrongness”.

And this is where the identification of values can provide such wonderful insight and clarity. It’s such a simple and foundational concept, but because we are bombarded with messaging about values, we may have consigned the whole idea to the woo woo pile – I know I had.

Yet it makes perfect logical sense that if we are conducting our careers and lives generally, out of alignment with what we believe in and what is intrinsically vital to us, then there is likely to be a dissonance, a feeling of wrongness.

Here’s a metaphor (and an exercise) I use to illustrate this point with clients: think of a wheel: this wheel is divided into segments, each segment representing one of your core values.

Now let’s assume that your values are not being met by your current circumstances. For example – you have a value around freedom and yet at work you have no authority to make any decisions for yourself – everything must be approved by a hierarchy of people prior to you being allowed to take any action. That’s going to grate, and it means your segment is not going to be full. Widen this concept out and often I find with clients that many of their values are not being lived or met. So, we end up with a very wonky wheel, and as this wheel turns in our life, we are going to be experiencing a very bumpy ride – things are not going to feel “right”.

Imagine now the same wheel where our values are being lived and met, our segments are full. As the wheel turns… a smooth ride. A feeling of rightness. It’s not a panacea, things are going to happen in life that knock us, but when we are on a smoother road normally, we are going to be naturally more resilient with greater energy reserves to help us through the tough times. There is evidence to show that not honouring our values over a prolonged period of time can lead to ill health.

Additional to this smoother ride, our values help us with decisions. They orientate us to what is right for us; your gut feeling about something is often rooted in your values. When you are able to consciously assess a decision against your values, saying yes and no becomes more straightforward. We are able to attach the rationale for our decision.

Touch back on organisational values as a tangible example: you are looking for a new role or have been offered a new job in another company. Knowing your own values and researching the company’s or department’s values can offer immediate insight into whether this would be a good move for you. When you can identify you share values with a potential employer or team, when the culture reflects what is also important to you, it is more likely that you will have a sense of belonging.

A note of caution: it is a relatively easy exercise to make a list of inspiring a powerful intentions and list them on a company website. The true test is whether an organisation is actually living these values. Speaking to existing employees and understanding the company culture first hand is a useful exercise. What the company stands for is evident in how they operate day to day and how they interact with their staff. [2]

It’s not hard to make decisions when you know what your values are. Roy E. Disney

What are my values? 3 questions to help you define your values:

Defining your values is often an exercise that takes time and is something that we often revisit as we develop and grow. It is essentially an exercise of reflection and there are many ways we can explore this. Here are some ideas:

  1. List out where you spend your free time and any spare money: often where there is genuine interest and passion, there are values. Is all your spare time spent with other people – do you always seek out others? Perhaps there is a value around connection. Are you the person always signing up for night school? Perhaps there is a value around learning or discovery.

  2. Think of somebody that you deeply admire. What qualities does this person have that inspires you? Why are these qualities important to you?

  3. Conversely - what really annoys or angers you in the world? What is it about this that has this effect on you? What would you need to see instead to have this anger dispelled?

If you are interested to dig deeper into your values, you can download my free values exercise here:

Values Worksheet one pager
Download PDF • 621KB

In summary:

  • Core values are not ‘things’, they are principles and beliefs that are personal and important to you

  • Identifying your core values is an exercise in self-reflection and observation

  • Your core values help orientate you and make decisions

  • When we are living and behaving in accordance with our values, we experience a feeling of ‘rightness’

How to work with me:

If you are interested in how I can work with you around personal values and more, I offer a free 30-minute call. You can book that directly in my diary here. I don’t do hassle, I can’t bear it when people try it with me, so of course you get to mull it over and a no thanks from you is final, I promise. And for those that like the detail (I’m one of those), have a look at my website, where I aim to provide complete transparency on what to expect – and that includes pricing.

You can learn more about me on YouTube

I work with individuals, teams and organisations, helping them become more self-aware so that they can appreciate choice and make decisions to change with confidence.

My one-to-one clients have a corporate career which, often, is not currently satisfying them. They often don’t know why, because it used to, or because it looks great on the surface. I help them figure out what’s getting in their way and where they want to go next.

My organisational clients are seeking support via coaching, workshops and webinars with leadership development, confidence in business and wellbeing. See what’s available.

Join the crowd to be first to receive fresh perspectives from the weekly blog, and exclusive access to offers & free resources via the quarterly newsletter. Sign me up.


[1] Personal Values: How to know who you really are. Mark Manson

[2] Harvard Business Review “make your values mean something” Patrick M. Lencioni

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