A key element of “knowing thyself” is sorting out what’s really important to you. Without a clear sense of our personal principles and priorities, it’s almost impossible to bring the picture of our preferred future or vision sharply into focus. Investing time and effort to uncover and articulate our personal principles has many important benefits:

  • We’ll have a strong foundation to build our leadership upon. James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s study of credible and effective leaders led them to conclude, “Values are directly relevant to credibility. To do what we say we will do (our respondents’ behavioral definition of credibility), we must know what we want to do and how we wish to behave. That’s what our values help us to define.”
  • Clear personal principles give us a much stronger sense of our personal “bottomline.” Knowing where we stand clarifies what we won’t sit still for.
  • It’s easier to make choices between conflicting opportunities that arise — where to invest our time, what behavior is most appropriate, and where we need to concentrate our personal improvement efforts.
  • We’ll be much closer to finding our personal energy source and developing that critical leadership passion.
  • Our self-identity, self-confidence, and sense of security will be strengthened.
  • Our principles will provide the stable and solid core we need to transform the rapid changes coming at us, from terrifying threats into exciting opportunities.
  • We can more clearly see to what extent our personal values are aligned with our team’s and organization’s values.
  • To clarify our core values, we can develop a comprehensive list of all our possible values. Now rank each one as “A” (high importance), “B” (medium importance), “C” (low importance). Review the A and B values. Are there any that are essentially the same value or one that is an obvious subset of the other? If so, bring them together and rename, if necessary. Rank order the remaining list from highest through to lowest priority. We should now have your top five core values.

Focusing on our core values:

  • Ask ourselves whether these are our true, internal “bone deep” beliefs or an external “should” value. We often don’t recognize a lifetime of conditioning that has left us with other people’s belief systems. We need to replace any “should” values with our own.
  • Examine each core value to ensure that it is our end value and not a means to some other end. For example, wealth is seldom a value in itself. It’s usually the means to status, power, security, recognition, freedom, accomplishment, pleasure, helping others, or some other end value.
  • Write out a “statement of philosophy” that outlines and explains each of our core values. This is for our own private use, so we should be as honest and candid as we can.

These exercises are rarely done quickly. It could take dozens or even hundreds of hours to sort through the “shoulda’s”, “oughta’s” and “coulda’s” to get to our basic, core principles. The more meditation, contemplation, and writing time we put into this, the truer and more energizing our core values will become.