Core Values – Why they are important?

Over the last two years or so, during this pandemic, I found that many people were anxious and disoriented by all the events happening because of the pandemic. I figured that we were in an environment that we have never been in before and it has challenged everyone in more ways than one, leading to distress and issues with mental health. I too was challenged in similar ways. While the pandemic is a crisis of major proportion, we probably have had many different types of crises in our lives that rocked our boat from side to side. How do we stay anchored despite the strong winds and waves that rock us back and forth and send us far away from where we were, seemingly lost and needing to find our way back?

I know the above may be a little dramatic, but we get rocked by many of these throughout our lives, and some may just be small mini ones.  What we probably need is a guiding light to figure out how to move forward. Given what I saw over the two years, in our leadership programs, I decided to look at how to help people to reflect and identify what their core values were and use those to help them ride through this storm. Why I decided that identifying core values would be important in these times was because I have had personal experience with doing that and how it changed the way I look and conduct my work and life.

How I came into understanding about core values is a story in itself. More than a decade ago, I had a good corporate career and was working hard at it for a long time but somehow, I did not feel satisfied or fulfilled. Good roles and a great company to work for just did not seem to be enough for me to be happy with what I was doing. I was working way too hard and travelling a lot. I thought I had to do that to move up the corporate ladder and do well for myself. I kept telling myself that I was doing this for my family and for our future. Little did I know that nothing could be further from the truth for me.

When I was in my forties, I was thrown a surprise party with some of my work colleagues and friends invited. That birthday, I started looking at myself and asked myself what I was doing in my life.  I had had a good career so far and I was doing well, but I felt like I had done all I had to do there. So the next challenge would need to be found. I found it in a new role in a new division within the organization. I loved new things and challenges and thought this would be it. Also, I thought that moving up the ladder into higher roles was what I needed. But even that did not change much for me

While in this role, we were asked to go for a leadership program – a two-day program run by an external program leader. There was also a lot of gossip going on that many leaders who took this program either quit the company, changed jobs, or decided to do other things within the company or externally. While that sounded strange, I figured it was not all that impossible either.

I went in with an open mind. In any case, I loved being in training programs and was always eager to learn, fascinated by all the knowledge and information floating around about leadership and management. In this program, we did an exercise in values elicitation, the premise being that leaders needed to understand what their core values were before they could effectively lead other people and teams. Suffice it to say I had never done an exercise like this.

It was a powerful one to say the least. A lot of emotions were seen even from people who do not normally show any. I think it made a powerful impact on many of us. A lot of self-reflection and sharing with our cohorts into our lives happened there, and we also started to understand each other better.

We were then given a set of personal values which we had to go through on our own after we did some self-reflection and shared stories with our cohorts in the program. We had to iteratively choose ones that we liked and to eliminate the ones that were not important to us, until we finally identified our top three values.

The following was what ended up as being my top three values – Family, Health, and Integrity – in that order of priority. Wow – that was relief – now I know what they are! Was it a surprise though? Probably not. But this exercise made it conscious to me and etched it into my memory. Now I can use these to give clarity to what I want to do in life, make good decisions and use them as an anchor during tough times. This is great I thought!

Then came the bombshell! The next reflection exercise was to ponder and answer this question: Which of your values are compromised by your current work and life situation? As I reflected and shared with others, I got an astonishing revelation and as I wrote them down and looked at it, it came as a bit of a shock:  Family, Health, and Integrity. Everything that was of core importance to me as a person was being sacrificed by how I was living and what I was doing then.

This was a big turning point where everything changed for me.  I decided to take action to stop compromising them and yes, by changing my role and reducing my travel, spending more time with my family, and taking care of my health. I also realized that I needed to do something where integrity was important. When I reached decision points where I had to compromise these values, I made alternate decisions and let go of things that would do that. I felt happy doing it even if it did not make probably logical sense at that time. In the longer run though, it really did!

To “temporarily” conclude this story for now, I just wanted to say that relying on my core values led me down a new road completely. Interestingly. Going down my list of core values, in the top seven, were two more values which I didn’t think much about at that time – Learning and Teaching. Three years after I went for this program, I embarked on an entrepreneurship journey in facilitating, coaching, and consulting in leadership and management development. It has now been twelve years since that day. I feel I am living those core values now, but does that mean we don’t stray from them or compromise them? No, it still happens from time to time. But like boats with good anchors, I don’t stray too far away and come back to where I need to be for my life and those around me.