The Importance of Knowing Your Personal Values for Self-Awareness
Updated: Nov 16
At Starling, we believe that, in order to create happier and healthier workplaces, we need a new style of leadership that is deeply self-aware. To build self-awareness, there is no better place to start than by understanding your personal values.
What are Personal Values?
Our personal values are the traits that underlie almost all other aspects of who we are. They are moral north stars that provide a framework for behavior, decision-making, and interactions with others. Values shape how we show up as human beings and as leaders.
Personal values are deeply embedded in our character and are shaped by our personality, personal history, beliefs, and exposure to others. Most experts agree that personal values tend to stay static over time, but it takes time and reflection for us to truly understand the values that are most important to us.
The Importance of Identifying and Prioritizing Values
Values can be tricky. Many of us think we know what our values are, but we sometimes struggle to clearly communicate how they shape us. That’s partly because values are like tasty baked goods – there are hundreds (literally) of them out there, and they are all appealing! But whether we realize it or not, we prioritize certain values over others. Identifying the values that come first is an important step towards self-aware leadership.
This identification and prioritization takes lots of work, and it’s not a one-and-done deal. While our values may stay relatively static over time, the order in which we prioritize them can shift depending on life circumstances. For example, we might begin to prioritize health more when we start a family than when we are enjoying the perceived immortality of youth.
Recognizing Your Personal Values as a Leader
When it comes to leading and influencing others, being clear on our personal values helps anchor our actions in authenticity, ensuring that every decision, every direction, and every interaction is driven by who we are. It’s the foundation for a truly human-centered approach toward leadership. When we share our authentic values with a team (and when our actions exhibit those values), we increase confidence and stability within the group.
The Dangers of Misrepresented Values
This might go without saying, but if you choose to share your values with your team, you need to engage in complementary behaviors. One of the most harmful things a leader can do is to espouse values that their actions don’t seem to demonstrate. This is worth emphasizing - there are few things a leader can do to lose the trust of a team more quickly than to regularly engage in actions that do not align with their stated values.
And it’s easier to fall into this trap than we think. Consider a leader who says they value “respect for all humans,” but they continuously show up late to meetings. Even more troubling is a leader who voices their commitment to openness and fairness, yet their actions display favoritism or secrecy. The dissonance is jarring, like a teacher advocating for academic integrity yet turning a blind eye to cheating in their classroom. These contradictions ruin reputations and destroy trust.
To be sure, we all occasionally do things that don’t align with our values, and that’s ok! It’s when these missteps become a pattern that we get into trouble. Emotional intelligence, self-reflection, and input from others are all useful tactics to employ to make sure our actions are aligned with our values.
How to Find Your Personal Values
As with so many other aspects of developing self-awareness, understanding our personal values starts with self-reflection. Consider a variety of situations you’ve experienced in life where you’ve felt happy, sad, tested, proud, etc.. Look for themes in how you’ve acted in these scenarios. What are the throughlines? For example, in scenarios where you’ve felt angry or sad, what was at the heart of those feelings? Injustice, perhaps? Or maybe a lack of accountability.
Ask yourself probing questions: What am I passionate about? What would I stand for even if it was unpopular? As we journey through these questions, patterns begin to emerge, revealing the values that resonate most strongly with us.
But self-reflection is only part of the equation. Sometimes, our initial effort results in a list of things that we want the world to see us as instead of what is truly important to us as individuals. Consider this initial draft a hypothesis of what you believe your values are.
With your hypothesis in hand, there are a couple of approaches that you can take here to gather evidence. First, spend some time thinking about your actions and how they relate to your values. Go one-by-one through your list and look for times when you’ve lived those values and times when you haven’t.
It’s also helpful to gather input from others who know you well. Present them with your hypothesis and ask if they have seen evidence one way or the other that supports or refutes what you’ve identified. Ask them what they think your values might be. You might be surprised by what others see in you.
Your goal with this step is to refine your hypothesis and look for any disconnect. For example, if you’ve identified health as one of your values, but your partner observes that you haven’t been engaging in healthy habits like going to your doctor, staying active, and eating healthy, you have a disconnect.
The cause of this disconnect could be any number of things – perhaps you haven’t accurately identified your values, you need to adjust your actions to align with your values, or you are forced to deprioritize what is really important to you due to external forces.
Whatever the cause of the disconnect, it’s worth addressing. When our behaviors do not align with our values, it creates a psychological phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance. Without going into too much detail, cognitive dissonance can lead to stress, anxiety, and depression, so it’s worth investigating.
Work through this process of self-reflection and evidence-gathering as many times as you need to get to the clearest understanding of your values as possible.
At Starling, we believe that, ultimately, leadership is an expression of self; it’s personal. To be a strong leader, you have to be self-aware. This starts with understanding your values and regularly checking in to ensure your values are aligned with your behavior.
We believe so strongly in this that we’ve dedicated an entire module of one of our foundational courses, Knowing Yourself, to understanding your values.
Getting this right makes you authentic, relatable, and real. It’s worth doing!