Values Clarification Exercise

••• erhui1979/DigitalVision Vectors/Getty Images

Values are the deep-seated, personal standards that influence every aspect of our lives. Examples include integrity, privacy, family, honesty, harmony, and loyalty.

Great leaders are crystal clear about what they value and how their values guide their behavior and decisions. With a clear and consistent set of values, or guiding principles, leaders demonstrate these consistently in their behavior and others come to understand what is important to them and why.

In The Leadership Challenge: How to make extraordinary things happen in organizations, James Kouzes and Barry Posner say, “To become a credible leader, you first have to comprehend the deeply held beliefs that drive you. You have to authentically communicate your beliefs in ways that uniquely represent who you are.”

The author’s research demonstrated that the leaders with the most credibility are always clear about what they value, how they communicate their values to others and the importance of leading others in a way that is consistent with those values they hold dear.

Identifying Your Values

There are two steps to values clarification:

  1. Becoming clear about your most important values
  2. Communicating your values to others

The "Leadership Challenge" offers easy exercise leaders can do to help them clarify what is most important to them.

Readers are instructed to do three things:

  1. Write a tribute to themselves,
  1. List lessons from leaders that they admire, and
  2. Write a leadership credo.

If you're not sure about your leadership values, try this easy exercise.

The "Values Sort" Leadership Exercise

In executive coaching work, facilitators will use a “values sort” exercise to identify values. The object is to determine your top seven values, ranking number one the most important value.

Directions for doing the exercise are as follows:

  1. Start by crossing off the items that are not important to you.
  2. Then, go through the list again, circling as many of the items that are very important to you.
  3. The remainder of the list items will essentially be the things that are important but not very important.
  4. Next, review the very important items. Consider whether there is a value missing that matters a lot to you and has not been listed—add that one in. From this group, select the seven things that are most important to you.
  5. Then, rank these seven most important values, with number one being your most important value.
Achievement AdvancementAdventureAutonomy
Environmental ResponsibilityEffectivenessEfficiencyExcellence
FamilyFinancial GainFreedomFriendship
FunHealthHelping othersHelping society
MasteryMeaningful workMeritNature
OpennessOrderPersonal expressionPleasure
WealthWisdomWork/Life Balance 

Defining Your Leadership Style

Once you have your top seven values, consider answering the following questions to determine how well your values are represented in your leadership style.

  1. Are your employees aware of your top values? If not, share them and invite your staff to share their most important values.
  2. Are your values demonstrated in your day-to-day behavior? Are you being true to your values? If not, consider the ways you can align what you truly value with how you lead your staff.