Embodying Your Values

Before I began working with my first formal mentee, my HR leader gave me two decks of values cards to use as an icebreaker. It worked so well that it became a ritual. Almost everyone mentee or coachee that has worked with me has spent time in the first session exploring their values.

I connected with that first mentee over the weekend, and she texted me a picture of her decks of value cards, which she still uses today in her own mentoring and coaching. That warmed my heart.

Pop quiz – what are your values? Many people I work with have never given the question conscious thought. Others realize it’s time to revisit the question. Today I’ll discuss how you can explore your values and illustrate the process by digging into my own.

Identifying Your Values

Before my first coaching session, I direct my coachee to Brené Brown‘s list of values from her book, Dare to Lead. There are many values lists out there, and I find this one comprehensive. I ask them to select their top five values ahead of our session.

I am deliberately ambiguous here, offering no guidance about what lens to apply. Some coachees think about their values in the workplace. Some think more broadly about their whole selves. There are no right or wrong answers, although ideally, you have one set of values that holds true across all your worlds. 

I’ll note in her book that Brown insists you whittle the list down to only two. I’ll admit I cursed out loud when I heard this in the audiobook. That feels like cruel and unusual punishment. Her point is that if you can boil it down to just two values you hold sacred, those become the filters you pass every critical decision through. If an option doesn’t align with those two values, it’s a hard no.

Also, note that there is a space to write in your own. Don’t limit yourself to this list if you’re not seeing a value that resonates with you.

You probably don’t have the time to complete this exercise right now. I hope you’ll add it to your task list and devote 15-30 minutes this week to exploring the list and selecting your top five.

Embodying Your Values

So let’s assume you have completed the exercise and identified the five values that are most important to you. Now what? You can file that list away and forget about it. Or, you could bring that list fully into your awareness and begin to observe when your choices align with your values and when they do not.

One technique I suggest is a tip I took from the book Innovate Like Edison by Sarah Miller Caldicott. I attended a summer institute with a group of colleagues that featured Caldicott and used her book as the center of our learning. As homework, we were each encouraged to select one of Edison’s techniques for innovation that pushed us out of our comfort zone and embrace it.

I chose the one that was most uncomfortable for me. Express ideas visually. I don’t draw much. OK, I don’t draw at all. I took pencil and paper and brought my values to life. The result was what I now refer to as Values 1.0:

My first values diagram

This was powerful for me. I pinned this diagram to my wall and regularly consulted it. I added a step to my weekly review to reflect upon my values and consider whether I was living them fully. Today I’ve formalized that step in my weekly review using a technique called life accounts

It also helps that whenever I start working with a new coachee, I share these values again and reflect in the moment as I listen to the values the other person has selected and why.

Reflecting On My Values

Today I am up to Values 4.0. You’ll see many similarities to the original list and Values 1.0, but also some changes.

My current values diagram

Connection. This began as Family. This was an aspirational value in some ways. At the time, I was too focused on work and not spending enough quality time with my family. When I transitioned into coaching, I recognized how much I valued social connection in all forms – my family, friends, coachees, coaching colleagues, and pretty much everyone I interacted with. And so the value has evolved into connection. The backdrop of the universe also ties in here, representing my connection to all beings throughout the universe.

Well-Being. This began as health, with a desire to prioritize both my physical and mental health. The core value is mainly unchanged, but I have decided that well-being better captures the value, notably as I’ve widened my interpretation of the value to include spiritual health.

Integrity. This value remains unchanged, although the role models I identify with in this space have evolved. This one feels so ingrained internally that you could argue it doesn’t need to be in the top five. However, where integrity most matters to me is the people around me. It is an important reminder not to tolerate someone who lacks integrity. Nothing drains my energy faster.

Growth. I’ll typically combine learning & growth when I describe this one. It hasn’t changed. I need to be learning and growing to flourish. In the past, when I felt in a rut, upon reflection, I nearly always found I wasn’t learning or growing in any aspect of life. Whether I changed my role at work or took up a new hobby, adding back learning and growth pulled me out of the rut.

You’ll note the scales hanging from my hands. This pulls in Balance as an honorable mention, reminding me to balance my own needs with the needs of others (I tend to focus more on the needs of others) as well as to maintain balance between work and the rest of life.

Arete. That value in the center is arete, written in Ancient Greek. In Values 1.0, this was happiness, but I always told myself it wasn’t happiness like having a smile on my face. It was deeper than that. Being fulfilled. Then I discovered Aristotle’s writings on arete, which often translates to virtue or excellence, and sometimes is translated to happiness. Aristotle believed the good life was one where we devoted ourselves daily to a life of virtue and excellence. That’s what I meant when I said happiness. And my magic formula for arete is living a life where I value my social connections, prioritize my well-being, always learn and grow, and live my life with integrity.

Putting It Into Practice

Ready to explore your values?

  • Devote 15-30 minutes to selecting your top five values.
  • Build a values diagram to help you internalize and embody your values.
  • Update your weekly review to include checking in on your values.

Schedule time with Josh.

Want to comment? Join the conversation on LinkedIn.

Subscribe to Arete Pursuits