3 min read

The value of values

Values represent what you consider important and desirable in life. If you want to find meaning and purpose, then know your values and be true to them.
The value of values
Know who you are. It'll help you sort through tensions.

I never really thought about values for much of my career. I probably assumed that everyone more or less shared my values. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I started to reflect on my values and in doing so, I’ve learned some important lessons. First, most people share the same values, but we often disagree on how values manifest themselves. We also tend to disagree on their relative priority. Second, it’s crucial to recognize that a disagreement arising from conflicting values is practically impossible to rectify. 

What do you mean by values? 

Values are your guiding principles. They are the core beliefs that shape your decisions and actions. Values represent what you consider important and desirable in life. Indeed, values give your life meaning and purpose. 

When faced with choices, big or small, values serve as internal compasses. They help you navigate complex situations by suggesting paths that align with what you believe is right, copasetic, or important. Aligning your decisions with your values often leads to a greater sense of satisfaction, fulfillment, and general grooviness. 

As a leader, it’s important to take stock of your values from time-to-time as they influence the decisions you make and the consequent actions you take. If someone has ever asked you the question “what kind of leader are you?” your answer is likely in terms of values. Your values shape your identity and understanding them helps you better understand you.

Words aren’t the same as actions

If you spend time reflecting on the values that you value, you’ll likely come up with a series of nouns such as accountability, love, loyalty, or empathy, for instance. These words are meaningful, but it’s important to recognize they aren’t unique to you. Most people value love.

What’s more, the context of a particular value can be nuanced: loyalty to family could be different than loyalty to a company. Consequently, when you think through your values, it’s helpful to articulate how those values manifest themselves through your actions or how you judge those values in other people’s actions. Moreover, it’s helpful to prioritize your values, especially if some values are in tension with each other. Empathy and accountability are a few of my values. Those two can be at tension with each other; accordingly, I place a higher priority on accountability. 

If you haven't done so before, take some time and list your values. Describe what they mean to you. Order your values by importance. Periodically revisit your values too. My values have certainly evolved over time, especially their relative order. 

A values clash

Most companies espouse a set of values as part of their corporate culture. Ideally, you’ve aligned with your particular company’s values; indeed, it’s probably a driving force to work for the company. When you and your company share values, things are copasetic. Nevertheless, there are occasions where values clash. Specifically, the values of your company, or more realistically, your boss, occasionally will fall into conflict with your values. This is why it’s important to know your values and your expectations of how those values manifest themselves. 

If you find yourself unhappy or frustrated with corporate decisions, direction, or leadership, take an accounting of the values you see reflected. For instance, if you value transparency, but struggle with the lack of it from your company, this is likely a cause of tension and unhappiness. Unfortunately, as I’ve learned over time, this tension is rarely solvable. That is, when your values clash with the corporation, the corporation usually wins. 

Values define you. If you value curiosity and find yourself working for a manager who's a know-it-all, chances are you won’t be happy. If you value fairness but feel the decisions corporate leadership makes are explicitly unfair, you’re going to feel conflicted. You can certainly try to change the values of those around you, but recognize that it's an uphill battle. Afterall, their values define them.

Values represent what you consider important and desirable in life. If you want to find meaning and purpose, then know your values and be true to them.