Quick name three of your core values. Don’t know any off the top of your head? That’s okay. Knowing your values takes time. In fact, it should be a grueling process of continuously getting more and more honest with yourself. Why? Because it’s only when we understand what truly motivates us and also what can get us into some trouble, particularly if we’re in leadership roles.
Don’t Tell Me What I Want to Hear
When asked what your core values are, it’s easy to knee-jerk into a barrage of platitudes, nice words that sound even nicer when we say them about ourselves. Things like “Integrity, Honesty, Freedom, Family, Community.” These are all great things of course, no one would ever argue that they’re bad.
But this is also one of the most common areas for self-deception. It’s easy to give in and say values that everyone wants to hear. But core values are what we live on a daily basis. We can strive to have new values, but we first need to address the things we are prioritizing, the things we are valuing in our 16 hours of daily consciousness.
What Are Your Current Values?
Jot down what you think are your most critical core values for yourself and ask yourself this question about each: What have I done recently that demonstrates this value? If you come up blank, maybe it’s not your present value. Or maybe it’s more aspirational than based in reality. Then ask yourself this: What do I do all the time? How you spend your time, what do you work at the most? Those answers can be indicative of your values.
Your job history can also give you insight. Have you ever had a job that gave you real enjoyment. Maybe it’s a job where you can say “I was happy there, the job itself wasn’t great. But I was doing meaningful work.” That kind of assessing can give you insight into the types of values that drive you.
It takes internal and external self-reflection and self-assessment and make no mistake, this should be a painfully hard experience. It should feel like stretching muscles that haven’t been used in a while or pushing past your perceived body’s limits to run longer. Finding your core values should be an excruciating process that doesn’t give immediate gratification. The first pass is rarely your truth and you’ll need to continually reassess to get to the realest parts of yourself.
Not All Values are Ideal
People rarely talk about the relentless pursuit of wealth, the relentless pursuit of productivity, the relentless pursuit of power when they discuss core values. Of course, those things don’t sound as good as charity, balance, and initiative. creativity and charity. And all those great sounding values are wonderful. The problem becomes, when we aren’t honest with ourselves and aren’t willing to accept that some of our values potentially are less aspirational. Just throwing out great catch words, instead of doing the work to find out what’s truly motivating you, doesn’t help much and can sometimes hinder your leadership abilities.
Why? Because if you don’t know what you’re currently valuing, you end up disconnected from yourself. Here’s my gauge of a true core value. It’s a core value, if:
- It’s something you hold true.
- It’s something you can see in your daily life throughout the course of a week.
- It’s something that has gotten you into trouble.
Values Can Become Blindspots
What do I mean by “it’s gotten you in trouble”? If you haven’t been willing to sacrifice, it’s not a core value. For example, maybe one of your core values is protectionism, where you’re extremely protective of your staff. Losing it on your bosses in the name of your staff’s best interest might not be the best thing for you and at the end of the day, it might not give them any benefit either. It might not make sense to protest, but you do it anyway because something inside of you just feels like it’s the right thing to do. That fighting and struggling for no good reason, and certainly not to your own benefit, that’s when you know it’s a core value.
And that’s why it’s important to recognize your true core values. Because sometimes they don’t surface as productive parts. Sometimes they can get in the way of seeing things clearly. Strong values can cause us to have blindspot in our leadership. When we’re familiar with them however, it’s a heck of a lot easier to acknowledge “Oh, this is why this is getting me so upset. This hit a nerve of mine.” And then it gives you a chance to step back a bit and be a little more objective. And that’s when you have the opportunity to become a better leader, because you’re able to recognize your blindspots better.
You have to truly be open minded, to be able to say, “Hey, this is something that my actions define as a core value, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily where I want to be. I want to change it.” Just being open minded to the possibility of change, can have a profound effect. Once you name it, then it’s a lot easier to start, acknowledging and reconciling that value and what power it holds in your life.