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How To Figure Out Your Core Values

A while ago, I took my daughter to see an old Disney movie – The Sword in the Stone. One line that the wizard, Merlin, said as he was training the boy struck a chord with me:

“Just because you look like a fish, doesn’t mean you are one. You don’t have the right instincts yet. You have to think like one, to be one”.

Translating this into business-related speak, it becomes…

“Just because you look like a business owner, doesn’t mean you are one. You don’t have the right instincts yet. You have to think like one, to be one”.

And so you may have a website, a logo, a business name and even a strategy – but that doesn’t mean you’re a business owner…not until you begin to think like one, and hone your instincts.

But what do you base your instincts on? What do you use as a compass when you’re faced with a multitude of business decisions about things you know very little about?

  • How do you decide who your right customers are when you’ve not worked with any yet?
  • How do you decide which suppliers to use when you’ve not tested any?
  • How do you know what to offer and how/where/when to offer it?
  • How do you price your stuff?

So. Many. Questions. And all the decisions rest with you, the business owner. Get them right and things flow and feel smooth and easy; get them ‘wrong’ and things start to feel out of balance and off kilter but you can’t always put your finger on why.

This is where core values come in handy…

A clear sign you’re OUT of alignment with your values – especially in your business/career – is when things feel unnecessary difficult or if you feel a little lost, a little fuzzy on where things are going, and lacking in clarity in many areas.

Plus knowing your core values can help you answer all of the above questions in a way that feels good and right for YOU and your business. So here’s how you figure out what your core values are…

Step 1: Answer these primer questions

These questions are valuable because they’ll help you get into the mindset of ‘core values’, and prepare you well for the next activity.

There are no right nor wrong answers to any of these questions, they are simply pointers to help you begin to think in the language of core values.

Move swiftly through each question, don’t over-think them, and trust your instincts and gut…

  1. What’s most important to you?
  2. What do you feel your life all about?
  3. What deeply held convictions guide all major decisions you make, and have made in the past?
  4. When you show up in the world – personally – what’s most important to you about how you are perceived (judged, even) by others?
  5. When you show up in the world – professionally – what’s most important to you about how you are perceived (judged, even) by others?
  6. When you meet someone new, what’s likely to press your buttons about them (good and bad)?
  7. What judgments do you often make about people?
  8. What beliefs, behaviours and views turn you on to a person? And turn you off?
  9. If you had to fight for your rights, what rights would you be fighting for?
  10. If you had to fight for your children’s/partners’/parents’ rights, what would you be fighting for?

Remember: There are no wrong or right answers, just answers that are right for you. 

Step 2: Identify your top 5 values

Now we’re on to the task of selecting your personal top 5 core values. To do this, follow these instructions:

  1. AFTER you’ve read these instructions, click here to bring up a table of values.
  2. Pull out a notepad and write down any words that resonate *most* strongly with you.
  3. Review your list, then narrow it down to the 5 that resonate most strongly.

Step 3: Narrow down your top 3 core values

In step 2, you shortlisted your personal top 5 core values. Now you’re going to narrow these down even further to uncover the top 3 core values…

Look over your list of 5 values. Can you list each of the values under one or more of the following three categories?

  1. What’s your life all about? What are you constantly striving for more of?
  2. How do you want to show up in the world?
  3. How do you want/expect others to show up in your life?

When you do this, it helps you identify what role each value plays in your life, and just why it’s integral to you, how you operate, and the way you work.

Step 4: Check your core values, on a personal level

To check whether the core values you’ve selected are indeed your core values, ask yourself the following:

1. Think of a difficult decision you‘ve had to make recently – one that saw you standing at a cross roads, perhaps.

  • Looking back, do you now feel you made the right decision? Why? Why not?
  • Did your core values play a role in making your decision?
  • If you feel your decision was a poor one, could this be because it was in direct conflict with one of your core values? How so?
  • If you feel your decision was a good one, does it honour one (or more) of your core values? How so?

If you can clearly see how your values helped you make the ‘right’ decision, you’ve identified your top key values; if your identified values don’t appear to have helped you make the decision, are there any other values you’ve not identified that would have helped guide you?

2. Consider someone you know who you know you don’t connect well with; perhaps they’re in your extended circle of friends/family or you always seem to be hanging out in the same circles on social media.

  • What is it about them that bugs you so much?
  • What behaviours, beliefs, words, actions do you see them doing which turn you off?

If you were to guess their core values, would they likely be the opposite of yours? If so, you’re probably on the right track with your core values; if not, are there any (opposing) words/values you’ve used to describe them that identify another value you might have missed?

3. Would anything change your values?

Can you think of any circumstances, situations or events that would cause your values to change?

Typically, your core values stay pretty static; they rarely change because they’re so ingrained into who you are and what you do.

If you find that the words you’ve selected aren’t applicable to any/all situations, decisions, events or circumstances in your life, it is worth re-evaluating whether there’s a value that fits better, and is all-encompassing.

Tomorrow, in the final installment of this course, we’ll take a look at the role your values play in your business and how – now you know yours – you can use this to your advantage.

Step 5: Check your core values, on a business level

When you know what your core values are, you can use this to your advantage in business and in life. When you build a business based upon core values you…

  • More easily attract your ‘totally right’ people; and repel the energy vampires.
  • Know the right format and models to sell offerings that energise and don’t drain you.
  • Build a business that plays to your strengths, and supports (rather than exposes) your weaknesses.
  • You no longer need to chase down every new idea you have hoping it will be ‘the one’, because you have an easy way to assess whether one idea will work for you (or not).

As you review your top 3 core values, can you mentally take stock of where you’re currently honouring these in your life and business, and where you’re not?

  • Do the people you work with energise and inspire you? Or do you seem to feel feel drained and dread after your interactions with them?
  • Are you working in the way you want to work, that suits your lifestyle best? Or in the way they want you to?
  • Do you currently feel your success is likely to be determined by your weaknesses rather than your strengths?
  • Are you still bouncing from idea to idea, trying to find one that fits you best?

Can you see where any friction, stress and dissonance is coming from? And can you see the difference it could make when you’re aligned with your values, in life and in business?

NOTE: It’s quite possible that your business has its own core values which may be distinct from yours (my personal and business values are similar but different, and have clear distinctions in how I interpret them for each).

For a downloadable guide of this post, click here →


If you’d like help to build a business with core values embedded at the heart of everything you do, join me for the next strategic planning session during which you’ll learn how to build a values-based business plan – a 1-page business plan that puts your core values first. Click here for details →