Core Personal Values

What Do Values Mean?

To understand values, we always invite our students to look at the trolley dilemma (Thomson 1985). The driver of a trolley faces the moral choice of avoiding five people’s death by deliberately killing the other two while changing the trolley direction.

Sometimes, with our MBA students, we start our sessions on values using this example. It is an absurd story, however popular among speakers, as it poses a clear dilemma on the most basic ethical principles, and it creates a universal feeling of ethical uneasiness. The first objective of the challenge is to make the students observe that we all have internal principles, even though they are not conscious. The second objective is to make the students observe that we all tend to relativize the relevance of absolute principles (in this case: it is wrong to kill innocent people) if it looks disproportionate or irrational (in this case: killing two looks more logical than allowing five to die).

Now let us come back to defining values. Values are principles through which we look at everything. In every society, family, community, you will find a set of values that is untouchable—very clear principles that are there and come automatically. Values as such are independent of emotions and situations; however, our acting upon our values might be influenced by the context.

Along with this chapter, we are going to study the role of values on personal development. The core objective of the chapter is to understand how to identify our internal system of values. All of us have one. They are certainly shaped over the course of our life and career, but they are so stable that they explain the deepest motivations behind our behavior and, therefore, our personality. If we do not get full awareness of our values system, we might risk the development of a professional plan that conflicts with our deepest, though sometimes silent, convictions.

The Challenge of Utilitarianism

This is a workbook written for the personal development of practitioners. Many of the topics we cover lack sometimes the depth and extension that they certainly deserve. This section is probably the one that would have required more extension the most. Utilitarianism, the philosophical basis of the market economy, is extremely influential in the forma mentis (way of thinking) of people engaged in business. Your value system, if you have been involved in business for some years, would likely be largely permeated by utilitarianism.

Since Immanuel Kant and modernism (18th century onward), there have been two different extreme approaches to the concept of value:

Consequentialism or Utilitarianism

The value of a behavior or an act relates to its consequences. Things or deeds or thoughts do not have a value in themselves. An action is valuable according to the consequences it has. As a consequence, the value of an action is evaluated using utility as a measure: something is more valuable as more useful it is.


The opposite of that is the categorical view of values—the value of a behavior or an act relates to its intrinsic aspects. There are reasons beyond the consequences. Therefore, there are actions that will always be right or wrong, independently of the context and consequences.

Consequentialist or utilitarianism is the most predominant ethical approach in business. One of its most popular manifestations is the principle of maximization of the shareholders’ value, as the main criteria for management’s decision making. One of the most popular tools in decision-making process—the cost/benefit analysis—is the most common daily application of utilitarianism. The question is whether there is or not a limit to the consequentialist or utilitarian as an approach of values. Prof. Rivera has written a couple of academic papers on the consequences of consequentialism (one of them is in Appendix 5—Publication Transcendental Love Journal).

Are there limits to utilitarianism or, in other words, could we maximize the consequences of our plans, behaviors, attitudes… in any aspect of our life and career? Can we really get a total maximization of everything we do? No, we are not perfect, the world is not perfect. Looking simply at some of its effects, like consumerism, we see how much utilitarianism is mistaken, it creates endless production of useless products. When you walk into a mall, ask yourself what of all that is really needed?

Following P. Drucker, we must realize that “the root of the confusion is the mistaken belief that the motive of a person –the so-called profit motive of the businessman– is an explanation of his behavior or his guide to right action. Whether there is such a thing as the profit motive at all is highly doubtful” (Drucker 1973).

Drucker is talking about the impact of utilitarianism in the concept and perception of success. What does success mean to me? Drucker is suggesting here that a leader is not essentially a person who tries to maximize profit. In other words, a leader is not a man or a woman who measures the value of things according to its consequences or its utility.

The objective of this introduction is to come up with a definition of values and to highlight the relevance of understanding them for our life or career planning. Values answer to how we see and appreciate reality. After living in a utilitarian system for some time—as most businesspeople do—it is unavoidable that our way of looking at reality goes through the perspective of utilitarianism. This perspective narrows down substantially our vision of reality and our vision of success.

Is There a Characteristic System of Value Among Successful People?

As we already emphasized, our values work as our internal navigation system. Therefore, they fundamentally influence our growth and development. They invisibly help us to create the future we wish for ourselves to have.

Values are the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong, what is most important in life and what is not, and they constitute the baselines of our decisions. They offer a paradigm of behavior. The paradigm of behavior is reflected in the following things:

The stories and myths that people remember about us, our teams, and our organizations

The symbols we and our teams and organizations use for communication

The way how we exercise formal authority

The way how we define our agenda, priorities, and processes

The willingness to control or monitor people and outcomes

The rituals and routines that are characteristics of your everyday life

The question is whether there are values that are similar between those people who managed to create long-term successful careers. Are there among those successful people similarities in the way they prioritize their lives, their routines, their relationships? Professors Nash and Stevenson from Harvard Business School seem to suggest that there is a set of values they had identified among long-term successful Harvard graduates. We think it is worth considering this set of values as an alternative.

Dynamic equanimity—An attitude of giving ourselves a certain distance or space to observe critical moments with more objectivity. “These moments are bolstered by their very ability to step back, view the big picture, plan, build resources, and especially, to renew themselves with rest, companionship, or simple random curiosity to explore the perimeter” (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Realism—Willingness to concentrate the attention on facts rather than on wishful thinking. “It will get you closer to your dreams than the bravado tales of limitless power, happiness, and love that often accompany reunion profiles” (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Resilience—Inclination to bounce back from setbacks or defeats in your life.

Integrity—n attitude of continuously checking our short-term decisions vis-à-vis our long-term priorities. “An intactness between what you do and the purposes you believe are most important for you to serve” (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Self-pacing—Readiness to take initiative when challenges appear. “The ability to put one thing down and switch focus not just to the next achievement task, but to another category of the good life that satisfies good emotions” (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Enjoying the process—Enthusiasm regarding our activities, not only the outcomes we pursue. “Moments of pleasure enhance the ability to do good work and they don’t always have to be quite so spectacular” (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Family-oriented—When their family is one of the core values of a person and their decisions and behaviors are focused around it.

Concerned—Sensitiveness toward the environment and the people engaged in our activities.

Versatile—Different types of accomplishments require different types of smarts (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Humility—Willingness to confront the most brutal reality about ourselves. “[...] not necessarily self-effacing modesty, but rather an ability not to be thrown off by the distortions of a big ego” (Nash and Stevenson 2005).

Sharing—Readiness to share our resources and assets, including those we are currently using.

Defining Your Value Navigation System—An Exercise

In this exercise, you will make an approximation on recognizing the values that guide your behavior. In order to do that, you are requested to define one example (as specific, concrete, and short as possible) for each of these elements:

Stories and Myths That People Remember About Us

(Examples: How did you start the business? How did you get recruited? How do you spend your holidays?)






Symbols That We Use for Communication

(Examples: Motto you use, any image that hangs on the wall of your office, etc.)






Dealings With Formal Authority (How We Exercise It)

(Examples: Levels of kindness you use with the staff, how often people come to see you when they have challenges, etc.)






Agenda and Processes (How We Define Our Priorities)

(Examples: Are you flexible with your schedule? Do you overdo on planning? Do you let other people modify your routine?)

Control (Our Willingness to Control or Monitor People)

(Examples: Frequency and style of reporting you appreciate, level of independence you grant for taking daily decisions)






Rituals and Routines That are Characteristics of Your Everyday Life

(Examples: How do you start the day? Do you have traditions for holidays and weekends?)






AHA. Through this exercise, you could realize that though values are invisible, they become visible through our behavior. Therefore, you can see how real and operative they are. The operating system is invisible, but it is there and acting. Behind each one of these exercises, you can find a certain way of looking at reality, of prioritizing different things in life, in simple terms, you can find your driving values.

Values Scale—An Exercise

The following exercise is a good tool for understanding and mapping your values. Its creator, Richard Barrett, is an author, speaker, and internationally recognized thought leader on the evolution of human values in business and society. He is the founder and chairperson of the Barrett Values Center. “Values together with beliefs, are the causal factors that drive our decision-making. The values that are important to you at any moment in time are a reflection of your current needs and your unmet needs from the past” (Barret Values Center n.d.).

If you are familiar with Maslow’s pyramid of needs, you might find Barret’s model (see figure 3.1) as a sort of remake of the latter. There is some truth to this. Both models assimilate wants (values) with social or mental or spiritual needs. In our understanding, Barrett’s model is more complete as it goes beyond the level of self-actualization.


Figure 3.1 Seven levels of school consciousness

Source: (Barret Values Center n.d.)

Nevertheless, both models (Maslow and Barrett) are extremely useful when working on human motivation. There is an important caveat though: our willingness to seek satisfaction with our needs, however, depends on our level of awareness of those needs. For example, everyone needs to learn, however, not everyone seeks to learn with the same level of ambition due to different access to resources, previous education, incentives in the context, and so on.

In the following exercise, you will be requested to choose the seven values (from the following list) that mainly define themselves at this moment. One easy way to pick more accurately these values is to choose those that best reflect your motivation for certain crucial decisions during last year.

List of values

1. Responsibility

2. Reliability

3. Humor—fun

4. Ambition

5. Dialogue

6. Image

7. Life balance (homework)

8. Comfortable with ambiguity

9. Independence

10. Life balance (physical, emotional, mental, spiritual)

11. Efficiency

12. Integrity

13. Want to be appreciated

14. Enthusiasm

15. Interdependence

16. Cautious

17. Environmental sensitiveness

18. Logic

19. Commitment

20. Ethics

21. Make a difference

22. Service to community

23. Family

24. Open communication

25. Compassion

26. Financial safety

27. Personal development

28. Continuous learning

29. Reconciliation

30. Pride

31. Control

32. Friendship

33. Respect

34. Courage

35. Future generations

36. Self-control

37. Creativity

38. Harmony

39. Vision

40. Honesty

41. Health

42. Wealth

Based on the values you choose; you are requested to shadow the human motivation level that they are trying to satisfy. For example, if you have picked future generations, you need to shadow level #7. If you have picked financial safety, then you need to shadow level #1. In this way, you should do it for all the seven values you have chosen. Please, if you have chosen more than one value that corresponds to the same level, you do not need to shadow the level again.


1. You can recognize through this exercise which are the levels of needs you are aware of and, therefore, you seek to satisfy. Most of our participants are generally aware of levels #1–4. Again, a utilitarian-based business community has difficult times to elevate the aspirations of its people beyond the bottom line.

2. A discussion generally ensues about whether these human needs—in their full scale—are optional or human nature demands the satisfaction of all leads to a fulfilled life. Given that this is a workbook, the discussion remains open, but we suggest giving this question a thought. If we understand human nature better, we will be able to motivate ourselves and others better.

Sources of Values—An Exercise

In this last exercise, you are requested to think about the sources of your values. Once we are aware of our internal and invisible operating system, we want to also understand how it comes to be.

AHA. With this exercise, you will understand that even though we choose which set of values we are going to use, they do not appear spontaneously in our lives, other people have influenced them. We need to understand this in order to see how to work on them.

Questions to consider

Who has inspired you in your childhood and youth?






What qualities do or did they have?






What do you admire in your current closest person (spouse, child, parents, friends, etc.)?






What do you reject in your current closest person (spouse, child, parents, friends, etc.)?







What boundaries are non-negotiable in private life and business?






What boundaries are negotiable in private life and business?






What makes you laugh?






To get to know you, others would need to know what (symbols, rituals, stories, etc.)?






What upsets you? Look at recent examples.







Using the answers to the preceding questions, write down 15 values that are apparent (you can use Barret’s list of value if it helps)






- From the list, choose only 10 values. Write why.






- From the list, choose only five values. Write why.






- From the list, choose only three values. Write why






Now, please turn to the next exercise in your personal and career journey “Leader’s Journal” and fill in your roadmap—1.1.4 My value scale.


During this chapter, the most fundamental takeaways are that values exist, but they are not obvious, they are invisible. The predominance of utilitarianism in business challenges our capacity to live authentically according to our values. Generally, we are pushed toward narrow, simple, and materialistic principles like maximizing shareholder value. Human nature, however, seems to demand higher aspirations.

We have done exercises to understand which values are underlying our behavior and which are the sources of these values. Generally, after these exercises, our participants end up realizing that human motivation and decision making is and should be more complicated than it initially looks like.

Oscar Wilde would say that there are people who know the price of everything and the value of nothing. There is a difference between how much of anything and its meaning for us. Our choices should be based on both, especially if we must decide about our career and life goals.

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