Clarifying Your Core Values

by Jim Clemmer

A key element of “knowing thyself” is sorting out what’s really important to you. Without a clear sense of your personal principles and priorities, it’s almost impossible to bring the picture of your preferred future sharply into focus. Investing the time and effort to uncover and articulate your personal principles has many important benefits.

  • You’ll have a strong foundation to build your leadership upon. James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s study of credible and effective leaders led them to conclude, “Values are directly relevant to credibility. To do what we say we will do (our respondents’ behavioral definition of credibility), we must know what we want to do and how we wish to behave. That’s what our values help us to define.”
  • Clear personal principles give you a much stronger sense of your personal “bottomline.” Knowing where you stand clarifies what you won’t sit still for.
  • It’s easier to make choices between conflicting opportunities that arise, where to invest your time, what behavior is most appropriate, and where you need to concentrate your personal improvement efforts.
  • You’ll be much closer to finding your personal energy source and developing that critical leadership passion.
  • Your self-identity, self-confidence, and sense of security will be strengthened.
  • Your principles will provide the stable and solid core you need to transform the rapid changes coming at all of us from terrifying threats into exciting opportunities.
  • You can more clearly see to what extent your personal values are aligned with your team and organization’s values.

To clarify your core values, develop a comprehensive list of all your possible values. Now rank each one as “A” (high importance), “B” (medium importance), “C” (low importance). Review your A and B values. Are there any that you feel are essentially the same value or one is an obvious subset of the other? If so, bring them together and rename it if necessary. Rank order the remaining list from highest through to lowest priority. You should now have your top five core values.

Focusing on your core values:

  • Ask yourself whether these are your true, internal “bone deep” beliefs or an external “should” value. We often don’t recognize a lifetime of conditioning that has left us with other people’s belief systems. Replace any “should” values with your own.
  • Examine each core value to ensure that it is your end value and not a means to some other end. For example, wealth is seldom a value in itself. It’s usually the means to status, power, security, recognition, freedom, accomplishment, pleasure, helping others, or some other end value.
  • Write out a “statement of philosophy” that outlines and explains each of your core values. This is for you own private use, so be as honest and candid as you can.

These exercises are rarely done quickly. It could take you dozens or even hundreds of hours to sort through the “shouldas”, “oughtas” and “couldas” and get to your basic, core principles. The more meditation, contemplation, and writing time you put into this, the truer and more energizing your core values will become.

Excerpted from Jim Clemmer’s bestseller Pathways to Performance: A Guide to Transforming Yourself, Your Team, and Your Organization (Macmillan Canada and Prima Publishing, Rocklin CA). Jim Clemmer is an international keynote speaker, workshop leader, author, and president of The CLEMMER Group, a North American network of organization, team, and personal improvement consultants based in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. His web site is http://www.clemmer.net/.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *