Why We Focus on Values
Values form the basis of our coaching and therapeutic work with individuals and organizations. Our values represent the kind of person we want to be and what we want to stand for in our life. They define what kind of coworker, manager, employee, friend, or partner we want to be. Like a compass, values direct us toward the behaviors that reflect the kind of person we most deeply want to be.
Clarifying our values—defining what is meaningful and purposeful in our life, envisioning what kind of person we want to be, and identifying specific steps that bring us closer to being that person—is important because values direct and guide our behaviors. Because values represent our deeply held beliefs, they motivate us to create and maintain behavioral change. When we link our values to specific behaviors, our values encourage us to behave effectively and influence the decisions we make. Likewise, identifying inconsistencies between our behaviors and our values motivates us to change our behavior so that it reflects our values more fully.
What Values Are—and Are Not
Values are not goals. Goals are tangible, achievable destinations, which may or may not be met. Values, on the other hand, are a constant companion. We don’t “achieve” or “complete” a value. Instead, our values influence how we move through the world. This means we choose, at every moment, to take steps that bring us closer (or further away) from the kind of person that we most deeply want to be.
Values are freely chosen. Values are freely chosen representations of our deeply held beliefs. Values, just like musical taste or preference in food, can never be wrong[JB1] . When we recognize our values both as freely chosen and as guiding behaviors, we strengthen the link between our values and our behavior.
Values are not emotions or thoughts. Feeling less anxious, happier, or more confident is not a value. These are emotional states, which are highly variable. Values, however, are a way of being in the world and are not contingent on external circumstances and limitations, emotions or thoughts.
Values are not about labeling our weaknesses or deficits. Identifying values doesn’t mean that this particular value is something we lack or need to work on; it’s about clarifying what matters most to us.
Values are not needs/wants[JB2] . Our values are not about other people’s behaviors or what we need or want from them; they are about our own behaviors. What we need or want from others is not always in our control; our values, on the other hand, are always within our direct control.
Values and behaviors are always under our control. Regardless of circumstance, we always control our values. We choose our values—and how we behave in response to those values.
How Values Help Us
Values play a vital role in both our professional and personal lives. Clarifying values in the workplace empowers organizations and individuals because values emphasize our ability to choose our behaviors regardless of our circumstances. Values are about what truly matters to us, not what we think “should” matter. Therefore, helping individuals in an organization to identify where their own values overlap with organizational values is important. They can then act on these values, creating a work environment that is cohesive, authentic, and collaborative because it is based on core values that are genuinely shared.
Likewise, clarifying values benefits us in our personal life. Values influence how we act in relationships with family, friends, strangers, and even with ourselves. They influence what relationships we enter into—and what relationships we leave behind. They guide and steady us through good times and bad, keeping us on course to being and becoming the person we most deeply want to be.