The Important Benefits of Getting to Know Your Core Values

By: Mat Beecher

Both organizations and individuals benefit greatly from knowing and living up to their core values. When we know what our core values are, and live up to them in the things that we do, we show integrity. Integrity is what lives at the intersection of core values and actions.

Integrity is not a value

Unfortunately, it takes time and commitment to peel back the various layers of the onion to uncover our core values. Core values are elusive. So where to begin? And why? Let me start with the why. Have you ever applied for a job and been miserable? If you haven’t good for you. But if you have experienced such a situation, think back. Why didn’t you like the job? Could it be that your core values didn’t align with the core values of the organization?

The answer? Maybe. The challenge being if both the organization and you are unaware of your core values, it’s quite difficult get yourselves aligned. If only one party knows their core values, alignment is still difficult, because you have to know your values in order to align them. The absolute worst situation is when one or both parties project X, Y, and Z as being their core values, but not living up to them. For when do not live up to our presented core values, we cannot claim to have integrity. And where there is a lack of integrity, there is often strife.

So where to begin? How can we identify our core values? Start by doing a search for core values + word list. There is no shortage of such lists online, so find one that resonates with you, print it, and find yourself a pen. Or, here’s an example with a bonus exercise. It’s time for some good old-fashioned crossing off and circling. Begin by circling the words that resonate with you and crossing off any terms that just aren’t you. If you get stuck, ask yourself questions like “are there any qualities other people possess that you can’t stand?” Cross it off. “What traits do you admire in other people?” Circle them. “If you had to describe yourself in 15 words or less, what would they be?” The goal is to narrow down the list and from there, to keep on whittling.

If you find that you have trouble narrowing down your list even further, it may help to ask your friends, family, and colleagues to circle and cross-off words they feel do or do not describe you. To do so requires you to be both courageous and vulnerable, but the benefits of such bravery are almost always helpful in your journey of self-discovery. It can be quite difficult looking inward. Our own biases, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the innate human ability to be our own biggest critic, are just a few of the cognitive obstacles we may face as we seek to discover our own core values and relying on the insights and wisdom of others may just be the key to learning more about ourselves.

After you get the list narrowed down, group similar words into value buckets. Then, try to label each bucket with an overarching term, or simply pick the value term from each bucket that best resonates with you and use that for your bucket title.

Another tool to consider is the Johari Window. Similar to using a list of value terms, the Johari Window is an exercise that uses a list of adjectives to describe yourself or another in an effort to compare your viewpoint against theirs. The purpose of the exercise is to identify 4 areas about ourselves: The Arena (known to you and them), the Façade (what you claim but they don’t see), our Blind Spots (what they see, but we do not), and the Hidden (traits unknown).

Johari Window

Taking a deeper dive into the Johari Window from the lens of self-discovery and personal growth, the goal is to shrink our Blind Spot(s) and Façade. We shrink our Blind Spot by asking for and receiving feedback more often, and we shrink our façade by knowing our core values, sharing them with others, and living up to them each and every day. In other words, we show others our integrity by behaving in ways that align with our values.

As we begin to learn more about and share our core values, we begin to grow The Arena. In doing so, we not only cast light on the shadows of our Façade and Blind Spots, but we also begin to narrow in on the Hidden area of ourselves. The unknown. The elusive, inner-core of our being. The heart of the onion. The very core. Here, we come upon that which remains after unpeeling layer upon layer of ourselves. It isn’t easy, and like peeling an onion, may result in a few tears. But it’s worth it in the end.

So why not give it a try? Stop saying you value or have integrity. Instead, discover your core, tell the world around you what you value, and then live up to being your authentic self. Show the world how much integrity you have.

So what about uncovering organizational values? We’ll save that for another time. Thanks for being here, and for being you.

Remember, if IT Matters to me, I hope IT matters to you. And please do share any thoughts or feedback.


Published by Mat Beecher

I enjoy leadership, conflict resolution, organizational health, talent management, adult learning theory, eLearning, and technology. I hold a Master's degree in International Negotiation and Dispute Resolution with a focus on Organizational Leadership. I currently work for an eLearning company and recruit IT instructors. I love Articulate Storyline, Captivate, Javascript, Python, HTML, CSS, and PowerPoint, and use them to design interactive learning modules, graphics, and learning experiences. In my free time, I learn online, blog, develop content, disc golf, camp, and travel.

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