Understanding your own set of personal values can be a powerful tool. Increased self-awareness and knowledge of what is most important to you can help to identify how you act, what motivations drive you and better understand why you react to particular events or situations more than others.
What are personal values?
Wordnetweb defines values as beliefs of a person or social group in which they have an emotional investment (either for or against something). Values exert major influence on the behavior of an individual and serve as broad guidelines in all situations (BusinessDictionary.com).
Values can and do change over time depending on environment, parental influence, teachers/schooling, friendship groups, specific situations and many other contributing factors. Importantly, values can be shaped through both negative and positive experiences. An individual may hold a core value based on something that has happened in the past that they regret, have unhappy memories about or the same value can be important to an individual because of positive stimuli.
An example I use regularly in training is the 9 year old boy (let’s call him Jack) playing football with his Father. Now, Jack may describe respect or trust as core values in later life. Either of these values and many others could be shaped by Jack’s experiences growing up. In the football example Jack may be criticised, chastised and ridiculed by his Father as they practice, almost certainly influencing Jack’s enthusiasm, self-belief and other personal attributes.
In contrast, Jack may have experienced a supporting, encouraging and rewarding environment as he and his Father practiced football. In either case, the values of trust and respect may be important to Jack as he continues to mature and develop, however the original triggers and influences that provide the platform for these beliefs and values derived from completely different experiences.
Since becoming more aware of what values are and the place they hold in my life I have discovered a stronger sense of comfort that was missing previously. Let me provide a personal example that I often use regarding the impact of values and the benefit of a deeper understanding on how they can influence an individual.
In the past I would sometimes be driving home at the end of a day feeling frustrated, angry, disappointed or some other negative emotional response. I would often dwell on these emotions and the events that triggered my responses. A short time later, due to the build-up of my emotions, I would start to become angrier and more frustrated reflecting my lack of ability to understand myself and why I couldn’t let the moment pass. In a sense I was getting annoyed about being annoyed in the first place. Sometimes this inability to simply ‘let it go’ became a bigger issue for me than the events that triggered my response in the first place.
Since gaining a better understanding of personal values and my own responses I began to recognise that in the vast majority of cases when I was most frustrated or disappointed it was due to one or more of my core values being breached. Understanding my responses and the reasons why has provided a more solid platform for me to move through those moments more readily. I am not saying that I don’t have negative responses or reactions – simply that I understand my responses better and as a result, can more effectively manage my own emotions relative to the situation.
Values are deeply held convictions which guide behaviors and decisions. When honoring values a person feels right, in-tune with and true to themselves. Stress often results from being out of alignment with values. Examples of personal values might include integrity, generosity, diligence, persistence, and humor. There are hundreds of words in the English language describing personal values, though each individual might hold dear to a handful. Values are deeply held beliefs that guide our behaviors and decisions. They reside deeply within the subconscious and are tightly integrated into the fabric of everyday living. We make decisions and choose behaviors, friends, employment, and entertainment based, in large part, on our values. (1)
To provide greater insight and understanding through coaching and in order to develop a deeper knowledge regarding personal values, I have conducted an assessment of personal values amongst almost forty team member’s, leaders, clients and acquaintances since 2009. The tool I use is the Real Deal Values cards created by the external company, Peak Learning. This tool consists of eighty cards with a value-based word or phrase printed on each.
The process is a facilitated discussion that provides an opportunity for each participant to sort through the cards numerous times, gradually removing those values that are less of a priority, eventually identifying the essential and core values.
The process includes several stages and seeks to create greater awareness for each participant regarding their own value set. This can assist in identifying why an individual reacts more strongly to certain decisions, situations and environments through an improved level of self-awareness.
The values are aligned to one of four groups:
- Relational – requiring at least one other person to be valid.
- Intrinsic – those values driven from within i.e. not requiring a significant external stimuli
- Extrinsic – values deriving from external sources/inputs i.e. requiring an external stimulus
- Achievement – aspirational or outcome based values.
In many cases, these values had never been consciously articulated or verbalised by the participant. Bringing these thoughts and ideas to the surface allows for greater opportunity to manage situations and emotions based on higher self-acceptance and self-reliance.
The discussions regarding why each value card has been kept or rejected provides insight into what motivates an individual, adds value to the session depth and ultimately the participants growth and development. We then discuss why the participant has selected these particular values, investigating why these are most important to them. There are no right or wrong responses – the values that an individual holds close are for their reasons alone. The discussions seek to delve into what the values are and why they are defined as a higher priority for the participant.
It is relevant to note that by discarding the initial cards, the participant is not stating they are unimportant values, simply that they are less important than those remaining. The process focuses on prioritisation, self-awareness and depth of thought.
Although due to the number of participants to date and relative scale, conclusive results cannot be drawn, there are key observations that should be of interest to us all:
- Trust made it into twenty-three of the participant’s top 10 core values and thirty-one (79%) of the top fifteen values for all participant’s.
- The following Relational-based values were also prominent, listed within the sample groups top fifteen values, as reflected in the percentages provided:
- Honesty (71%)
- Respect (68%)
- Loyalty (44%)
- Good Leadership (39%) was the predominant Extrinsic value listed
- The Achievement based values highlighted Being Challenged (39%)
- Relational Values made up 47% of the total
- Intrinsic Values made up 32% of the total.
Of the Intrinsic values the most prominently listed were:
- Learning/Growth (70%)
- Enthusiasm/Passion (59%)
- Making a Difference (54%)
- Health/Strength (46%)
So, what does this all mean? Simply stated, personal values matter!
This research clearly shows that trust is a key value that is prominent for many (or at least the candidates I have worked with!). This value is reinforced by Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner. In a 2009 international study, the majority of people said that they trust a stranger more than they trust their boss. Think about what this finding means if you’re a manager. It means that there’s a good chance that the people you lead are less likely to trust you than to trust someone they simply walked by on the way to work. Think about what this means to your credibility. Credibility is the foundation of leadership…and trustworthiness is an essential component of credibility…Think about what it means to the organization’s performance. High trust organizations have been shown to outperform low-trust organisations by 286 percent in total return to shareholders (2).
However, trust is not the only relevant value here. As detailed above, there are many consistent patterns and trends in personal values stemming from the results. If we can assume that this sample is reflective of the broader population then there is much we can take from the findings.
Interestingly, when considering the group trends, Relational and Intrinsic-based values made up over three-quarters of the values selected. Admittedly, this could be a reflection of the people I know, industries that participant’s work within or other contributing variables, although it is a compelling trend. Another alternative is that this sample could well reflect the values and related wants and needs of more than just the participant’s involved, in fact possibly those of people you work with today. Maybe some of the people are even in your own teams.
There are two key points worth reflecting on:
1. If you do not understand what each of your team member’s core values are, you could be potentially missing the ultimate success of growing and developing your team to be the best they can be. This could be impacting the business bottom line, morale, relationships and other key elements.
2. If we can assume that this sample is reflective of the broader population then we should ask ourselves as leaders: how well do we meet the needs of our team members to provide both the environment and opportunity to excel every day?
Values are not the only component of effective leadership, understanding an individual and team building. However, they are a core element and if overlooked are likely to lead to a series of assumptions about what drives and motivates, potentially leading to a missed connection with your people. Is this something that you can afford to ignore?
(1) Personal Values and Core Beliefs
(2) The Truth About Leadership: 2010, Jim Kouzes and Barry Posner