Several years ago, I took a quick assessment, VIA Strengths (formerly known as the Values in Action Inventory). The assessment has you rate a set of statements to identify values that are most important to you. The values that rose to the top for me then were things like Judgment, Fairness, Love, Kindness, and Excellence. At the time, those values really resonated with me. Years later, those values still hold true although what they mean to me has shifted. I have also grown to appreciate the importance of Freedom and Creativity as values that matter to me more now.

Since the pandemic in particular, I have found that the topic of personal values and what is most important has come up much more often in my coaching. I often share with clients that values become personal when we define them personally. For example, I have a value of Freedom, and my colleague may also have that as a value, yet what Freedom means to us may be completely different. For me, Freedom is about a sense of peace and expansiveness in my life, a feeling of not being held back by fear, worry, or lack. During my corporate career, Freedom related a lot to autonomy in my job. It’s why I left jobs where I felt micromanaged or stalled. For someone else, Freedom may be adventure and the ability to break the rules. The value of Freedom therefore is personal to each of us.

What do your personal values have to do with work relationships, you might ask? Plenty, from my perspective. When we understand our and others’ values and what they mean to us (and them), this can lead to stronger and more effective work relationships. In addition, just as many organizations take time to identify and cultivate values for a stronger, perhaps more principle-based culture, identifying and cultivating your personal values is also important to ensure that your values can be honored in your daily life and that they align with the culture you are in, or at the very least, that you go in recognizing that you may be in a work environment that may make it difficult to uphold your values. When we are living in alignment with our values, we’re more fulfilled and happy – and that helps us be more effective and our “best selves”.

For example, I worked with a coaching client a few years ago who had Challenge as one of his top values. As we explored this value together, he defined this value as questioning the status quo, saying the unsaid, and searching for truth. He also discovered that he worked in an organizational culture that did not hold that same value, or at least did not define it in the same way. My client’s colleagues were “Midwest nice,” as they defined themselves, and whereas my client’s previous work in investment banking in New York City expected, and even honed, this value of Challenge, his current organization bristled against it. His expression of Challenge was, ironically, too challenging. He felt like a constant antagonist, the person who always showed up to throw a wet blanket on an idea or to give a sharp, unfiltered (and unwanted) perspective on an issue.

By examining his definition of Challenge, why it was important to him, and how he was expressing it, my client was able to reorient around how his expression of Challenge was bumping up against his value of Achievement. His difficulty in building relationships and trust because of the way he was expressing his value of Challenge was hindering his ability to make the impact he wanted to and knew that he could. He didn’t put his value of Challenge on a shelf but instead worked to be more at choice as to when Challenge was important and necessary for the moment, and when it was more important to forge relationships to achieve his goals.

Understanding our own values and learning more about what our colleagues value makes us more effective leaders. However, reflecting on our values often only happens when they are being put to the test or when we are in conflict. For proactive values work, here are a few questions to help you better define and align with your own personal values:

  • What are your top five values? You can use a tool such as VIA strengths to answer that question or use a list such as this one to select your values.
  • For each of your values, write a sentence or two about what that value means to you. What does it look like, feel like? How do you know when you’re living?
  • Continuing to explore your top five values:
    • When or where do you most feel in line with each value?
    • What aspects of your life, work, and relationships most support and honor each value?
    • When does each value feel most stepped on or minimized in your life, work, or relationships?
  • Are there any ways in which your values are in conflict with each other? What is significant about that?
  • How have your values and their meaning evolved over time for you?
  • How can you more fully live your values? What steps can you take in your life, work, and relationships to be more in line with your values?

Values are meaningless until you give them meaning through an exploration of why they are important to you, what they look like and feel like, how they have evolved, and what you can do now to more fully live your values. By taking the time to make your personal values personal, you discover what’s most important in your life.

What are your top five values – and what do they mean to you?
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If you enjoyed this post, you can read more like it in our book, The Power of Thoughtful Leadership: 101 Minutes To Being the Leader You Want To Be, available on Amazon.

To explore your values further in partnership with an Executive Coach, contact Robyn at

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