Let’s talk about values and morals. I’ve heard the phrase “Nothing like a crisis to make a leader’s true colours shine!” quite a bit over the past couple of years. We have seen it in the media, and it applies to more situations than just within the business world. Some leaders worldwide are calmly and steadily navigating crisis, while others are leading in a more erratic style…one never knows what will be done or said next.

It got me thinking, what exactly are my ‘true colours’? And the answer that came up is my values. If I think about the things in life that both trigger me and help guide me it is my values.

Knowing my values makes life easier because my values consciously and unconsciously drive my behavior. 95-99% of our behavior is driven from the unconscious thoughts, beliefs and values! 

So answer this, how important is it that we know our values?

A Colleague’s Story of Values and Morals

My colleague, Cheryl, shared this story that highlighted how knowing your values can propel you in different directions.

“Before taking my coaching courses, I never gave much thought about what my values were. I remember that my parents taught me right from wrong and being raised in Quebec, we did go to Church on Sunday where I learned about being nice to others, sharing, helping people, etc.

I thought those were my only values and then I didn’t think much about this concept during my adult life.

I’ve always been very driven. While most girls dreamt of fairy tales it was clear to me by age 10 that I wanted to run an empire. I had the opportunity to work for amazing companies and I was happy to work hard and climb the corporate ladder. Then one day I got pregnant, and shortly after that I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.

I went on to deliver a beautiful baby boy (now almost 6) and beat cancer. I was off work for about 18 months and then I went back to the company, assuming a new role and ready to get back at it!

But somehow, it never felt right. I felt odd, distracted, and I just could not buy into it like I used to. I started looking at the clock, looking forward to going home to my family – which was odd considering I’ve pulled many all-nighters without flinching. During that time, I would blame the company for my unhappiness. Of course, it has to be its fault!

Then I got pregnant with baby number 2, went on mat leave and decided to look at other opportunities. I went to my first coaching course not really knowing what to expect. The first thing we were going to talk about was values. I thought…well, that’s going to be boring, I know ALL about values.

But after digging into my values system, naming them and putting them in order of importance, I could not help but to realize how much my values had changed. There were new values like family that out-shined all the others and somehow, running an empire was just not the priority anymore.

And then it hit me. It wasn’t the company after all…it was me! The company had not shifted its values but mine had in such a way that it just wasn’t a good fit anymore. 

Now I am still and always will be a driven person, but now I found a way to honor that part of myself while making sure that my other values are also respected by myself and others. In coaching we talk about honoring or not honoring your values and the impact it has on our lives. It amazes me today that since gaining clarity on my values and morals in life, how much easier it is for me to make important decisions and I feel like I don’t second guess myself anymore.

For the first time in a long time, I know I am exactly where I want to be.”

Benefits of Knowing Your Own Values and Morals

Cheryl’s story perfectly highlights that knowing your values is foundational for guiding your actions and notifying you when things are off course.

This Forbes article shares that same concept, “The benefit of knowing our values is two-fold. When we are clear about our values they offer us a solid and guiding foundation which we can rely on during tough times, when important decisions need to be made or when we’re being tested.”

Our values and morals can also help us live well and authentically. Being guided by values may give us the courage to change situations which leave us misaligned and inspire us to stay true to who we are or who we want to be.

“When you achieve complete congruence between your values and your goals, like a hand in a glove, you feel strong, happy, healthy, and fully integrated as a person. You develop a kind of courage that makes you completely unafraid to make decisions and take action. Your whole life improves when you begin living your life by the values that you most admire.”
– Brian Tracy

Never has it been highlighted more as in the last year the difference we have witnessed between those leaders who know their values and live them consciously and those who do not.

How Do I Discover My Values and Morals?

There are many ways to go about exploring your values and morals. Here are a couple of individual exercises and one team exercise to have some fun with… 

1. Peak Experiences Exercise

  • Think about some peak experiences in your life, those moments that were truly meaningful for you, or moments that really stand out. What was happening to you? What were you doing? Who were you with? Why does this moment stand out? What values were playing out at that time? List the values separately for each experience and then cross reference and find the top 3 or 4 that traversed across each experience.
  • Note: You can conduct this exercise for both positive moments as well as moments when you found yourself very angry or upset. When we get triggered it tends to be because someone is butting up against one of our values.

2. List of Values Exercise

  • You can find many core values lists online however here is one to get you started. 
  • First go through the list fairly quickly and write out the ones that speak to you, but don’t overthink it. If there is a value that doesn’t appear on the list add your own.
  • Then group similar values together. Your goal is to come out with no more than 5 categories.
  • From each category pick the one word that most speaks to you.

3. Discovering Team Values

  • Ask your team members to write 3 values that are important to them that are well represented in the organization and what effect it has on them.
  • Next, ask everyone to write out the 3 values that are important to them that are lacking or not represented well in the organization and the effect it has on them.
    • 1st round table – have each team member share the top 3 that are represented and give concrete examples.
    • 2nd round table – have each team member share the top 3 that are lacking, again giving concrete examples.
  • Have an open discussion allowing people to ask questions of each other, talk about what they learned through the exercise and reflect on how the team can use this information moving forward.
  • One idea is to create a ‘team rules of engagement’ using the top 3-5 shared values – exercise partly adapted from this manual.

As an individual, once you have your 3-5 top values take a look at how you are showing up. Are you mostly in alignment or out of alignment with your values?

As demonstrated in Cheryl’s story, values are generally pretty stable but by no means are they set in stone. Checking in with yourself and reassessing your values and morals is an exercise you can do regularly throughout your life as your circumstances change and as you get more connected with your ‘true colors’.

What are your values and how do they help guide your leadership and your life?

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