The subject of values is almost ubiquitous. We hear about the values “on the walls” of the multinationals, we read about the values-based management explored by certain entrepreneurs, we find numerous online tests to discover our core personal values. We are concerned and want to find out more about our core values.
But what are personal core values? How do they work in our lives and how do they relate to our success?
The simplest definition of personal values is as follows – values are known or unknown criteria for our decisions.
Behind each of our behaviors is an unconscious or conscious decision, which has a complex mechanism and a guidance system given by the set of personal values.
Personal values are also the benchmarks according to which we define who we are and what we want. They are the foundation of our dreams and aspirations, of the choices we make every day.
The essential value
Only for the purpose of understanding the way values work in our lives, it is useful to imagine them as beads on a vertical axis.
The first and most important value in our set of values is called the essential value. There are only 7 such essential values and these are the following: respect, integrity, wisdom, love, kindness, harmony, freedom.
The essential value is not usually revealed by the online tests for discovering personal values, but we can find it out after completing a guided coaching exercise. Discovering the essential value of our value structure brings us clarity and connects us better with our life mission.
The core values
After the essential value follow our core values. These are the ones that, if they cannot be expressed through behaviors, generate a strong desire to eliminate from our lives contexts that do not allow those behaviors.
Because their number is different from person to person, in the tests of personal core values, usually the first 10 of them are identified.
A man can have a set of 200 and 300 values, that is, as many criteria (unconscious or conscious) for his decisions and actions. A situation of any type activates a certain number of values, located in certain positions in this hierarchy.
Other ways of values classifications
There are many other types of classification of values. According to the criterion of their validity, the values are real or absolute, individual or general, objective or subjective. Also, values can be positive or negative.
For example, participating in training can activate values 10, 22 and 37 for a certain person and values 2, 7, 16 and 22 for another. Some of the values in these positions may be common, others different.
If two or more persons have activated at least 3 common values regardless of their position in the hierarchy of each person, then a perception of trust between these persons is installed.
The trust constantly installed between people in 2-3 successive interactions, allows the subconscious to remember this aspect that will be taken as “default” next time. Until when? Until the behavior of one of these people will produce a negative stimulation (say disappointment) with a difference large enough to trigger ‘recalibration’.
Awareness of our core values is an extremely useful process, which brings clarity and which allows us to be aligned with the personal goals active in each stage of our lives.
The values can also be classified according to other two other criteria:
a) The impact that their expression in behaviors has on people and we have:
- Attraction values – Values that we want to be more active in our lives because they are aligned with our life’s mission and goals and help us express these in behaviors.
- Avoidance values – Values that we strive to avoid, according to our subjective perception of reality.
b) The way in which values act as motivating factors on our needs, aspirations, and desires and we have:
- Means values – Negotiable values
- Goal values – Values that are non-negotiable
For example, economic, political values are negotiable values, and moral, aesthetic and religious values are mostly non-negotiable ones.
Expressing values in organizations
As I said, when the values at the top of the hierarchy cannot be expressed in or supported by a particular environment or context, we are strongly frustrated and unhappy. Most of the time, people choose to leave organizations or communities were expressing their core values is not possible.
Within organizations, the role of leaders is to be models in the way that they reflect in their own behaviors the values of the company. Also, by communicating the values of the company and the associated behaviors, they will activste those values within the team.
Take for example the value called “collaboration”. When leaders of a team systematically demonstrate this value in their behaviors, when they name and appreciate it in front of people, when they implicitly and explicitly reward it, the value is “activated” within the team members.
The result is their alignment in the direction of the behaviors that support the collaboration, and the integration of the new colleagues will be done in an aligned team, where the qualitative transfer of the behaviors associated with the collaboration works smoothly.
Changes in the values hierarchy
The structure of our core values is not a rigid one, but one that changes at certain time intervals, generally between five and ten years. Through coaching and mentoring we can adjust the hierarchy of fundamental values to bring us a better quality of decisions and implicitly of life.
For example, a person who has the value called “health” in the 15th place can bring it in the top ten. In this way that person will show consistently behaviors that support this personal value, now more important in their own hierarchy.
Compared to beliefs, values are much less emotionally coded. Therefore, what we cannot discuss in terms of beliefs because it generates an emotionally charged conversation and raises to the highest levels the psychological resistance, we can sort out in the value-based conversation, if we ask the question: “What is important for us?”
Knowing one’s own hierarchy of values and correlating them with the values of the organization in which ones works is an exercise in mental hygiene. Through this exercise we receive an excellent opportunity for introspection, to discover ourselves consciously, but above all we receive clarity.
When we know our own hierarchy of values we understand what are the contexts, situations, behaviors and decision criteria that keep us aligned with our aspirations. Through this awareness, we have the opportunity to take the first step towards a values-based leadership, which will be the subject of my next article.