Do you know the core values that drive your life, thoughts, beliefs and actions?

Let me share an all-too-common story stemming from a lack of defined core values.

A recent coaching client showed up on my proverbial doorstep ready to throw in the towel.  She owned a business, but it felt more like it owned her.  No more were the days that she sprang out of bed, excited to get into the office, take on the thrill of the next exciting client project and manage her dedicated staff. 

She had built her business from the ground up and it had been a labor of love.  Every employee had been with her from the beginning. She had personally groomed each one of them and considered them family. Business was booming, clients were happy and life was smoothly sailing along. Then, everything changed in what felt like a blink of an eye. 

Suddenly, loyal employees turned against her. Clients were revolting.  Systems no longer worked. There was no cohesion and chaos ruled the day.  She could not wrap her head around what was happening as her ship was sinking and she could barely stay afloat.  There was no one to bail her out but herself, yet not only did she not know how to navigate the ship, she lost all desire to be the captain. 

Life was bleak. 

The only option she could see from this desolate place was to sell the business. She just wanted out.

 We started to work together and sift through the various layers of disruption. One of the first places we explored was looking at her values.  She had never taken the time to define her values which ultimately created a rudderless ship.

The importance of values

Values are your core beliefs, your standards of behavior and your guiding principles.  

Your personal core values are the starting blocks to develop your beliefs which in turn develop your behaviors which drive your actions and outcomes.  Your values are the ultimate indicator for how you show up in life and why.

Clearly defined values creates cohesion in life and in business. 

Your core values serve as both a compass and filter as you navigate the choices and decisions you make about everything in life. They set the standards that will guide your life and your business. Our values influence our behavior and our choices. They help us define our priorities and guide us in living a life of integrity.  

What are those values you won’t compromise on?

What are the values that are essential to living the life you desire?  

What are the values that you require from those you work with and provide services to and what actions are you committed to take if there is a lack of compliance?

Our personal core values also serve as the great arbiter.

They help us focus to get the results we want and not become distracted by those temptations that fall outside the parameters of our values.

Clarifying our values helps us create meaning and fulfillment in our lives. When we are in alignment with our values, we are in integrity with our authentic self. When faced with a choice, we can ask ourselves – is this action in alignment with my values? Will it move me closer or farther away from what I value?

Values are not about right or wrong, or even about morals. 

Values give you the ability to articulate what is most important to YOU to lead your life on purpose. It’s vital to be scrupulously honest with yourself when you identify your core values.  Please do not select socially acceptable values or those that you feel you “should” have or would like to have.  If your true desire is to achieve your goals and live an authentic life on purpose, you must be honest and transparent with yourself and select those values that truly resonate with you and speak to the very fabric of your being.

How values govern an organization

When I set up my law firm in 2001, I created the core values that governed every aspect of my firm.  I was committed to working with clients who were in alignment with my values.  I didn’t take them on if they were not a match, even if I needed the money and watched it walk out the door with the client. If I signed up a client who ended up being out of alignment with my values, I fired them. 

I learned very early in my career that the only issues I had that could not be reasonably addressed were with people who were outside of my defined values.  These are the people who cause the hassles and headaches. They drained me of resources and impacted quality of life.

The reward for not deviating from my core values was working with similar value-driven employees, vendors and clients who stayed with me for long haul, up to this current day. I’ve worked with multi generations of family businesses.  My clients are like family to me and we’ve been together through thick and thin.  Why? Because we have aligned values and we’ve stuck with them and each other.

So what happened to my coaching client, you ask? 

She finally dug into her values and defined what mattered to her.  She discovered where her life and business were out of alignment.  She recognized her role, took responsibility for what she created and decided to turn it around.  She took her business off the market and threw herself into what mattered and why.  The joy is back. Her business, and life, foundations are now based on her values. The team is cohesive and working toward a common goal.  Clients are aligned.  Revenues are up. Life is good.

Discovering your core values

Now it’s your turn to define your values.  I’ve created a worksheet with a comprehensive list of values to help you select and define your top 5-10 values.  You can access the worksheet by clicking this link and downloading it:  Core Values Worksheet.   If you want a comprehensive list of 500 values to review, check out the list of values created by Steve Pavlina.

Once you download the worksheet, follow the instructions to discover your top ten values.  You can prioritize the values with the most important value identified as number one and continue to list all ten.  Then, select the top five values and expand on what they mean to you.  For example, if you value “Freedom” – what exactly does that mean to you? Is it flexible days and hours? Is it the ability to travel the world? Is it having autonomy in your decision making? Is it financial freedom? The more clarity you can give your top five values, the easier it will be for you to make decisions and choices based on them.

Once you identify and clarify your values, start to run all of you decisions against them, which will give you the power to choose actions that are in alignment with your values and keep you on track to meet your goals and desires in life.

If you want a more comprehensive approach to operationalizing your values, (defining how they look in action), Brene Brown’s  book Dare to Lead is an excellent resource.  She has created worksheets and a workbook to help you and your team, which you can find on her Dare to Lead website.

The artist side in me wanted a creative representation of my values, so after I identified my values for one of my business plans, I used Tagxedo to insert my values into a heart using a variety of fonts and colors.  Try it on yourself and see what you can create. 

List of Values identified in a heart

I’d love to see what you discovered from this process. Please share your top 5 values below in a comment.  Start steering your life by your values and see what shows up to greet you!

Carpe Diem!




Joan Jakel

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