If you were asked right now what your personal core values are, would you be able to answer? If you said no, that’s ok. In fact, nine out of ten people can’t just rattle off their personal core values on the spot. We all have personal core values, but they aren’t always obvious to us; as strange as that may sound.
Our personal core values are the internal filters we use that guide our actions, behaviors, and the way we live our lives. They are how you show up as a person and how others might describe you. These filters exist in all of us, but really knowing what they are and how to use them is a game changer.
You may have heard the saying that you are the average of the five people you choose to spend the most time with.
With this idea in mind, here is an exercise to help you identify your personal core values:
Make a list of the five people that you are closest with in life. These could be friends, family, co-workers, training partners, etc. These are the people you love being around. They stimulate you and want you to be the best, most authentic version of yourself.
For each person, make a list of adjectives that describe them as a person, not their physical description.
After you have described each person, compare the lists and combine the same or similar adjectives that were used for more than one person. There is a very good chance that you will see commonalities across these people.
At this point, you will have two lists. The first list is made up of the same or similar adjectives that were used in describing more than one person. The second list is made up of adjectives that were only used once. Using the adjectives on both of these lists, choose five or six that you resonate with you the most. These are your personal core values.
Once you have identified your personal core values using adjectives, you should define what each one means to you.
For example, one of my personal core values is trustworthiness. In the context of trustworthiness being one of my core values, I define it as: Following through on promises made; telling the truth even if it is uncomfortable; maintaining confidence when something sensitive is shared with me; and doing right by others even if it is hard or inconvenient.
To stay focused on your personal core values, find a way that keeps them visible to you. I personally have my core values and their definitions printed and framed in my office. By having a constant reminder, a part of your brain called the Reticular Activating System (RAS) is engaged to help draw attention to related things in your day-to-day life. It’s just like when you get a new car. As soon as you leave the car lot in your red Ford Mustang, you suddenly notice a lot of red Ford Mustangs on the road. These same cars were on the same roads before, but you really didn’t notice them because there was no obvious personal connection.
When your personal core values have been defined and are visible to you, your level of awareness to how you respond to situations and other people becomes heightened. As a result, your actions and behaviors become more consistent. Your ability to articulate your core values is sharper. And, your capacity to lead by example is more clearly defined by you and becomes more noticeable to those around you.
Personal core values aren’t right or wrong. Some people like vanilla ice cream and others like mint chocolate chip. Because people are different, we also have anti-values. These are the traits or behaviors that people exhibit and you feel a natural discomfort. It is just as important to identify your anti-values for a more engaged internal filtering process, and a greater likelihood of being a more effective leader.
Here is an exercise to help you find your anti-values:
Using a similar approach as above, make a list of the five people that you dislike spending time with. These could be family, co-workers, industry acquaintances, parents of your children’s friends, etc. These are the people you just don’t enjoy their company. Something about them irritates you or makes you uneasy.
For each person, make a list of adjectives that describe them as a person, not a physical description.
After you have described each person, compare the lists and combine the same or similar adjectives that were used for more than one person. There is a very good chance that you will see commonalities across these people too.
At this point, you will have two lists. The first list is made up of the same or similar adjectives that were used in describing more than one person. The second list is made up of adjectives that were only used once. Using the adjectives on both of these lists, choose five or six that negatively affect you the most. These are your anti-values.
In life, and especially in leadership positions, we have to work with and interact with people from all walks of life, with different personality traits and values. When you have an understanding of your anti-values, you are able to better prepare for interactions with people who exhibit them. For example, Joe has a tendency of cutting people off because he just wants the facts; but you perceive this as being rude which is one of your anti-values. Rather than allowing Joe’s behavior to negatively affect you, communicate to him in a more fact-based manner.
Knowing your anti-values will put you more in tune with what is guiding the actions and behaviors of others, along with how to adapt when needed. This allows you to see things from the perspective of others and communicate and act in a way that you both understand. In a leadership role, you do not want to surround yourself with 100% like-minded people because your team will lack perspective. So knowing how to work with anti-values is critical to High Impact Leadership.
The clearer you are on your core values, the clearer you will be when making decisions in life. Your actions and behaviors will be more purposeful, and you will more easily recognize situations, opportunities, and people whose values are aligned with your own. When you understand your anti-values, you can more easily avoid situations or apply greater understanding when reaching a common goal involving people who exhibit values that are opposite of your own.
In the words of Sun Tzu, “If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained, you will also suffer defeat. If you know yourself and the enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”