Workforce Development / Leadership Skills

Setting personal values: What do you want to be known for?

Tom Moriarty says think beyond wins at work. What values do you want people to associate with you?

By Tom Moriarty

Two months ago, I started a three-column series. The first column in the series was about having a personal mission statement. Personal mission gives you an overall sense of direction – your purpose in life. Last month, I talked about having a personal vision. A personal vision gives you a set of specific goals to be achieved.

This month I’m presenting the concept of having a set of personal values. Values are the principles that guide you on your journey toward achieving your goals. Values create boundaries and a basis for our decisions and actions. While a personal mission and vision define the purpose and the destinations, values describe how you will get there.

The most important thing to consider when establishing your personal values is to understand that society at large should not dictate them. A subset of society – the people you most respect and who you want respect from – should help you define your personal values, based on what you believe is best for you. If the values are not deeply meaningful to you, then there’s little chance that those values will be used to guide decisions and actions.

Most of us have a general sense of our values. To get maximum benefit from values, you should define them specifically. This allows you to refer to them when you have a decision to make or an action to perform. There are three steps to the process of identifying what your values are:

  1. Picture yourself many years into the future. You are very old, and you are surrounded by family, friends, and others who are important to you – people you respect whom you want to be respected by. They have come together to honor you and express how you have influenced their lives.
  2. Imagine how these people would describe the way you lived your life. What would you like to be known for? Write down two or three statements that encapsulate what you’d like to be known for.
  3. What would you want people to say that they learned from you? Write these down and summarize them into two or three key phrases.

In total, you should have four to six phrases from steps two and three above. The phrases should be described in enough detail to completely express what you mean. These phrases become your personal values. If you’ve done the steps correctly, your personal values should reflect your personality. Your values ought to be second-nature, not something you have to strive to achieve or work to put into place. Going through the process of refining your values into a handful of phrases will make you more conscious of them. In my case, I would want to be known for:

  • Living my life honestly, with integrity, humility, and a sense of humor,
  • Earning my accomplishments through effort and perseverance,
  • Being helpful to others and assisting them in achieving fulfilling and satisfying lives.

I would want others to have learned from me:

  • To be curious and to engage in lifelong learning,
  • To be balanced – to understand both sides of circumstances and issues and have concern for the thoughts and feelings of others.
  • To prioritize your life: God, family, work, fun.

Reflecting on your personal mission, vision, and values before taking action helps you be consistent. The people who work with you appreciate consistency. It means they can anticipate how you will make decisions.

We all have slip-ups – times when we don’t act in character. Situations at work or at home can cause stress, which results in a hormone called cortisol being produced. Cortisol makes rational thought much more difficult. When a slip-up occurs, having a personal mission, vision, and values allows us to do a post-mortem. They remind us of our proper path.

In my soon-to-be-published book, “The Productive Leadership System: Maximizing Organizational Reliability,” I describe basic requirements for a productive leader. Being comfortable taking responsibility and having a personal mission, vision, and values are prerequisites. Email me if you’re interested in the book or in Productive Leadership workshops.