Business Finish LineQuick – note down your top four personal values, the desired principles that guide your day-to-day plans, decisions, and actions.

If you’ve formalized your personal values, this exercise took mere seconds. If you’ve not formalized them, it probably took a bit longer.

You can’t consistently act on your values unless you understand them. Formalizing them is a really good thing. You’ve just done the first step, which is identifying desired values. Then, add your definition for each value. Finally, include three or four behaviors for each value, behaviors that ensure you’re effectively living that value day to day.

Here are my life values:

  • Integrity – Definition: Do what I say I will do. Behaviors: Formalize my commitments with clear agreements. Keep my commitments. Live my values and behaviors.
  • Learning – Definition: Actively seek out information that builds new knowledge and skills. Behaviors: Scan the environment for current research and discoveries that enlighten me. Refine my skills often; toss antiquated approaches for improved approaches. Proactively share my learning so others benefit.
  • Joy – Definition: Celebrate the pleasure derived from doing things I’m good at and which serve others well. Behaviors: Be happy; if I’m not happy, change it up so happiness is present. Surround myself with happy people who see the good in others. Engage in the grace I feel when serving others well.
  • Perfection – Definition: Deliver excellence. Behaviors: Deliver what I promise, on time and under budget. Exceed standards or expectations where possible. Consistently WOW my partners and customers.

Have you prioritized your values so you know which ones are more important than the others? Or, are all of your personal values “tied for first?”

There is a school of thought that says prioritizing values is the best way to act on them, especially under pressure. For example, if you had “safety” as your top value and “service” as your number two value, safety would take precedence over service. A safety issue would demand action even if it meant service would be negatively impacted that day (or hour).

Another school of thought says that all of your values are of equal, top priority. If you’ve outlined your values, why would you make one more important than another?

I believe the best approach lies somewhere in between. Start with the belief that your values are all tied for first, and understand that your values are in “dynamic tension.” Reality, time constraints, emergencies, etc. will require you to act on only one or two values at a time! Acting on certain values while setting other values aside, even for a moment, will require you to circle back and apply any valued behaviors that were “passed over” in that instance.

So, if you acted on your “safety” value and inhibited “service” for a time, you would follow up with the player (or players) that you missed the service value on to explain what happened and make amends as soon as possible.

How do you manage competing values? What suggestions would you add to address values in “dynamic tension”? Please share your insights, comments, and questions in the comments section below.

Add your experiences to two fast & free research projects I have underway: the Great Boss Assessment and the Performance-Values Assessment. Results and analysis are available on my research page.

My new book from Wiley, The Culture Engine, guides leaders to create workplace inspiration with an organizational constitution. Get your free sample chapter here.

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S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of two Amazon bestsellers: Good Comes First (2021) and The Culture Engine (2014).
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Reader Interactions


  1. S. Chris Edmonds says

    What are your values? What behaviors have you identified that indicate you are living each value? Have you prioritized your values or are they all “tied for first”?

  2. Samantha Hall says

    Great post Chris.

    You asked:

    ‘Have you prioritized your values so you know which ones are more
    important than the others? Or, are all of your personal values “tied for

    Over the summer I participated in a free 30 day push challenge course that basically helps a person identify what their major goals are in terms of values, identifying the top goal that once completed, would make all the other goals possible. And then aligning at least 2 or more tasks per day to accomplishing the PUSH goal.

    I found that each one of my goals, including my push goals, were directly linked to my major values. However, I also found I wasn’t giving priority to the more critical ones that would actually help me move forward. i.e. if we don’t have healthy bodies, we won’t live long enough to effectively make a difference with our children, families, and world so I re-prioritized to make fitness #1 on my list at the moment. (especially after my mom was diagnosed with cancer)

    Will health and fitness always be in the #1 slot? Not necessarily. The order of my priorities will change based on legitimate needs. So when people get sick, their #1 priority will be forced to focus on health. If someone loses a job, the #1 priority may be to drop some hobbies temporarily until a new job is found.

    So needs dictate my priorities. My values are part of this. If we value our health, we tend to make it a priority. Some women with children will place a higher value on their children then anything else (some not all) during the child-rearing years). While men may place a higher value on careers if they are still the main bread winners with children to provide for, etc.

    Now all of that said, there are some values that may be more constant and underlie all other priorities regardless of needs. One of those values is honesty/truth.

    Regardless of our needs that will change, a high value on honesty doesn’t need to change and will be reflected in all we say and do. (although as I’ve explored the subject of truth in some of my own blog posts over the past year, I have found truth to not always be as black and white a subject as we may have originally thought when we take perceptions and assumptions into account)

    Wonderful topic and a vast one to explore for many of us.

    Thanks Chris!

    • S. Chris Edmonds says

      Fabulous example of your intense process to clarify your values, prioritize them, and align practices to them!

      Proud of you for investing in your fitness and your mom-ness!

      You = marvelous.



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