Are You Consciously (or Unconsciously) Values-Driven?


To live intentionally, you must surface your values – not the ones you think you should have, but the ones you really do have.

Our values are our deeply held beliefs about what is right and good.

Values drive our behaviors, whether we are conscious of them or not.

Many people adopt the values articulated by their parents, organizations or institutions. But when they are not also conscious of their own personal values and the connection between their values and what they espouse, they are often only superficially committed to them. The values support a self-image of who they want to be, not necessarily who they are, and don’t hold up during times of stress. This is one of the reasons we see values breaches so often – where we are surprised by the incongruous behavior of someone we respected.

We are all values-driven. The question is whether it’s consciously or unconsciously.

When you are conscious of your values,
You can challenge beliefs that no longer serve you.
You can make intentional choices about your actions, rather than being driven unconsciously by them.
You can be intentional about choosing relationships with people who share our values.

To surface your personal values, take time out for reflection. Identifying your values is not a mental activity – we care deeply about our values and become emotional when we connect with them.

Ask yourself questions like:

  • What do I care deeply about?
  • What would I stand in front of the bus to defend?
  • What do my actions say about what I really value?

If you believe something is a value but it’s not guiding your behavior, it’s not a real value … it’s simply a “good idea.”


17 comments to Are You Consciously (or Unconsciously) Values-Driven?

  • Cheri Essner

    Hi Jesse: I really love this post! I would like to share this post with my Professional Performance and Responsibility class I facilitate for Project Managers when we discuss values. The last line really is a light bulb moment in how to differentiate what is value and what is not. Thanks!!

    • Hi Cheri, Glad you found my post helpful and I am delighted for you to share it with your class. Too often people discount the “soft stuff” like values, not realizing how strongly it affects the “hard stuff” like our actions, decisions, and results. Glad to hear you include this important topic in your class.

  • Cheri Essner

    Thanks Jesse! I totally agree with you. My students come to class and call it fluff. After 12 weeks they leave w ith a better understanding of themselves and on a higher moral ground! I will share any comments from the students with you.

  • Hi Jesse – Thanks for shedding an important light on this universal issue. You raise many thought provoking ideas, all of which I agree with and embrace. I will often ask clients to consider “what they want to be known for” followed by a deeper review of the behaviors that embody that legacy. As you know, congruence is the key driver.

    Thanks for the inspiration,

  • Jesse, Thanks for you post. I like to think of values provide boundaries for our behavior. They act as sign-posts we can refer to when we have tough choices to make, helping leaders make the right choices, even when they are not easy.

    Thanks for keeping this kind of conversation going.


    • I like the way you frame it, Jim. When we are conscious of our values, they become signposts that help with tough decisions, even when they are not easy. This is true at not only the individual level but also the team level. I remember a discussion many years ago with the executive team of a large company about whether to terminate employment of a long-term senior leader. The CFO pulled out their values and asked, “Where in here is their guidance for how to make this decision?” The answer was obvious, even though it was a hard one. It was a powerful moment for all.

  • Beth Miller


    So often companies have this grand view of themselves when it comes to their values. Yet when I ask executives what they do specifically day in and day out that demonstrates these values, they have a hard time coming up with an answer. In general, most executives aren’t purposeful about living the company values. And when I do have the opportunity to work with a leader who is driven by company values it is a joy;) and when I can work with those committed to becoming purposeful it is rewarding work;)

    • Hi Beth, Thanks for sharing your observations and experience. My own experience echoes yours. I do see a big difference, however, in organizations that have gone through a high involvement process in identifying their values. People have a bigger stake in the values because they understand them more fully and see how they resonate with their own personal values. In fact, I think that by participating in identifying company values, people surface their own personal values as part of the process. When there is a “critical mass” of people driven by values, it becomes self-reinforcing as they naturally begin to develop systems and processes that support and reinforce the values. I’ve also seen this occur on a smaller scale for teams within organizations. It is a joy to work with people on these kinds of teams and organizations for as you say, “It is rewarding work.”

  • When values are conscious and discussed, it is likely they are shared and lived. And for leaders, building a values-driven culture where people find an alignment between their personal values and the organization’s values really creates synergy.
    Lots of food for thoughts here, Jesse. Thanks!

    BTW, I also love how the word “intentional” was a theme throughout this post. Excellent!

  • Lacee Thomas

    Great post on how to acknowledge to yourself if you are conscious of your values and therefore having your behavior reflect this. It’s so easy to just act and never take the time to really get in touch with why you are making the actions that you are. Are you really doing what you are doing because this is who you are and everything you act on is a direct reflection of the values you hold so close to you or are you acting out of what you feel pressured to do and what others expect of you? This is a fine line to walk especially to those who are the classic people please, but I couldn’t agree more with taking the time to do a little self reflection and letting those personal values surface….work is so much more rewarding that way!

  • Trackback from ThoughtStream: Laying a New Foundation in Education
  • Hi Jesse,

    What a fabulous post!

    I love the idea that we are defined by a core set of values that shape our behaviour – and that by understanding these values, we can challenge our beliefs and consciously choose the way that we respond.
    This is at the very heart of authentic leadership – our authenticity drives from knowing who we are, what we believe in, how those beliefs shape our behaviour and the way that our people interact with us. Understanding this…allows us to take control of situations, to respond not react, and to shape our teams’ discourse through our words and actions.

    Know who you are.
    Say what you believe.
    Be true to yourself.

    A terrific reflection – thanks so much for posting!

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>