What Are Core Values?
Core values are the interests and qualities that you’ve always found yourself drawn to. Core values make us who we are. When our work and life are aligned with them, we feel most fully ourselves and fully energized. We are naturally inclined toward our core values, and are eager to do them without making a lot of effort or setting a bunch of goals.
For example, some people love to repair or fix stuff – as kids, they took apart their toys only to put them back together, and as adults they still love tinkering in the garage. “Repairing” is a value for them – they don’t have to force themselves to fix stuff, they just do it.
By the way, in this context we aren’t using the word values in the same way it’s often used in the realms of politics, media, or religion, where it often refers to issues of morality. Core values can include morality, but the term as used here is more broad, having more to do with what we are drawn to.
The idea of core values as discussed here was first presented by the late Thomas Leonard, a pioneer in the field of life coaching.
How Core Values Can Help Us
Knowing what our core values are can help us make better decisions. We can use them as a guide or a set of criteria – “Does this new job align with my core values?” or “Is my current job honoring my core values?” For example:
- Gretchen’s core values include “have impact.” In the early days of her current job, she felt her work was having an impact on an issue she was passionate about. Since then, organizational realities have changed and her role has shifted, so her work seems to have less impact. No wonder she’s been feeling frustrated and listless at work. It’s time to figure out what changes she can make in her current job to make a bigger impact, or decide if it’s time to move on.
- Luke realized that he had a core value around creating and conceiving. This made sense – he always enjoyed jobs in which he got to design new projects and dream up new approaches to development issues. He decided it was best to avoid a job where he’d have to simply implement work that had been conceived by someone else.
- “Be connected” is one of Gloria’s core values. She finds managing and leading teams deeply fulfilling – not to mention fun. Putting her in a cubicle to crunch numbers all day by herself is a form of torture. Knowing this, she can seek work that will keep her connected with people.
How Can I Get My List of Core Values?
1. Read through the list below, developed by Thomas Leonard and Coach U. You can also access it, with full instructions, in this PDF. See what words naturally appeal to you, and circle 20 or so values.
2. Next, look through your list of the 20 values you have chosen and answer the following:
- Do you want it, but it doesn’t come easily? Then it’s probably a “should,” not a value. Delete it.
- Are you doing it in order to get something else? If yes, it is not a value. Cross it off your list.
- Did you do it when you were seven years old? If yes, it’s probably a value. Keep it on your list.
- Is it really exciting and you’re a bit afraid of it? If yes, it may be a value. Keep it on your list.
3. Try to bring your core value list to a total of 5.
How Can I Use My List of Core Values?
You can use this list to guide or validate your decisions about your work and career. I would say that your list of core values is a necessary – but not sufficient – tool for decision-making about your career, or anything else in your life, for that matter. The key question is: How does the choice you are considering line up with your core values?
You can also use your core values to help you simplify your life and focus your energy. Can you find ways to spend more time and energy on activities that honor your values, and less time on things that conflict with them?
Being aware of your core values can also help you identify when something is missing in your work and/or life – look through your list and brainstorm ways you can bring those core values more into the forefront of your life, if they’ve been on the back burner.
What are your core values? How are they aligned with your work, play, and life? Please share in the Comments section.
(also available here as PDF handout, with instructions)