An individual’s personal values encompass their needs, desires, sense of what is to be aspired towards and how they should behave. Getting to know their personal values can help people develop as individuals and leaders. A personal values activity can help individuals discover their values.

Summary by The World of Work Project

Personal Values

Every individual has a set of personal values which help shape their understanding of who they are. These values are the product of an individual’s experiences over the course of their life. They reflect beliefs passed on from society and relatives as well as the results of life experiences and perhaps an element of natural tendency.

A distinct individual, perhaps they've discovered themselves through a personal values activity

An individual’s personal values change over time, but whichever values an individual holds most important at any moment in time will act as a subconscious decision making, behavioral and potentially even moral “compass”. Understanding your personal values can help you behave authentically and make decisions you’ll be pleased with. It can also help with things like wellbeing.

Personal Values Activity

Some people have a high level of self awareness and clear sense of what their personal values are. Others don’t, and that’s perfectly fine. If you don’t know your personal values and would like to try and identify them, then self reflection is a good way forward, but it may take a bit of time.

The below steps are one method of self reflection focused on values. They can be performed as an individual personal values activity, or as a group activity.

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1 – Positive Exploration

A flower in a desert, representing positive exploration, the first part of this personal values activity
Start by reflecting on positive things.

Think with a positive lens. Reflect on times when you’ve been at your best, achievements you’re proud of, compliments you’ve received that you really valued, daydreams, and the people you hold up as role models. How do these thoughts make you feel?

For each thing you think about, put a name of the value that you associate most with what makes it positive.

2 – Negative Exploration

Think with a negative lens. Reflect on times when you’ve been at your worst, negative feedback you’ve received, behaviors that really annoy you, times when you’ve let yourself down and the individuals who frustrate you. How do these thoughts make you feel?

For each thing you think about, try to put a name to the value that is not being adhered to in these instances.

3 – Known Exploration

What values do you share with your family?

Spend a few minutes reflecting back over your life journey, your friends and family, the community that you live in, where you want to end up in life, what you think a good future outcome would be and who you’d like to be. How do these thoughts make you feel?

For each of the things you think though, capture any strong value associations that come to mind.

4 – Grouping, Naming and Selecting

By this stage of the personal values activity most people have a list of between 20-40 values. The next step is to group these values into thematically linked categories. For example if you’ve written down the values of: helping, caring, supporting others and providing a good service, then you may wish to group all of these values into one category called simple “Helping Others”.

Once all of your values have been placed into a group, the groups themselves should be named. These names are then your core values.

Most people will end up with about 3-6 core values.

Do you have any role-models you’d like to emulate?

5 – Reflecting on your Values

Now that you have your core values you need to reflect on them. What emotion does each value make you feel? How would you describe the value? What actions can you think of that demonstrate these values? Who can you think of that embodies these values?

Perhaps most importantly, are you living in line with these values? If not, what needs to change? Ongoing reflection is a key part of this personal values activity.

Learning More

Understanding our personal values is a key part of understanding our motivation, developing our self-awareness and developing our character. Rokeach’s value survey may help you further in exploring your values.

Our personal values may influence our career anchors as well as our career drivers.

Having a clear understanding of our values is also essential if we are to embody authentic leadership. You can learn more about authentic leadership in our podcast on the subject:

The World of Work Project View

Personal values are important for individual development and fulfillment, as well as for leadership development. This personal values activity is a good starting exercise for self-awareness, and a useful departure point for any leadership or development activity.

This activity can be completed individually, or in a group setting where individuals focus on their own values but share their thoughts as their thinking progresses. Many people benefit from taking time to reflect on their values and from speaking to others about them, so a group activity can be powerful. Some people, however, might find such an activity difficult to engage with.

Overall, we think this is a useful activity to be aware of and to use from time to time. It’s worth reflecting on your own personal values occasionally, and from a management or leadership perspective it’s sometimes helpful to discuss personal values with members of your team.

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This personal values activity is based on our experiences delivering personal and leadership development courses. There are no specific references for it.

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