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What are values?

This article discusses what values are, how they link with ethics, and how your personal values are at the core of who you are.
compass pointing at values
© CIOB Academy

What drives your moral compass?

Part of understanding what drives your moral compass is knowing who you really are. Ethics in week one was described as, “who you are when no-one is looking”. We also broke down the layers that make us who we are including childhood upbringing, culture, beliefs and values.

Let’s look at values in greater detail.

First of all, like ethics, when was the last time you had a conversation about values, if ever? Are you aware of what your, your family’s, your friends or your work colleague’s values are? Discuss below this article after reading it.

What are values?

Values are, in essence, what’s important to you but they are also what motivates your behaviour. They stem from a need or a void, & that need or void will motivate you to fulfil it which will then drive your behaviours and your actions.

Your values are formed through your childhood and influenced by your upbringing and culture. Different people value different things & this can change as you get older, the hierarchy of that value can also change.

Examples of values

For example, when you are a teenager, friendship will likely be high on your list of values, however, as you get older this could be replaced by family if you have children etc. Core values will likely remain the same throughout your life.

Values can be positive such as fairness, honesty, creativity, challenge, communication, freedom. They can also be negative such as, control, aggressiveness, manipulation, greed and blame.

One of the first researchers to make the link between needs, values and motivation were the philosopher Abraham Maslow (1908-70). He identified two types of needs:

  1. Basic needs – including survival, relationships and self-esteem, something that is important to get, have or have more of to feel safe, happy and comfortable in your existing physical and social environment.
  2. Growth needs – something you would like to have in order to feel a sense of internal alignment such as finding meaning and purpose in life, freedom and independence, making a difference.
“The amount of attention we give to satisfying a specific set of needs such as our survival, relationship or self-esteem needs, depends on three main factors: The stage we have reached in our psychological development; the life circumstances we were born into or which we are currently experiencing; and the situation in which we find ourselves at a specific moment in time” (Barrett 2014)
As children we value safety and protection; as teenagers and young adults we value looking good and recognition; as a single person pursuing a career, we value autonomy and continuous learning; as a team leader or supervisor we value trust; as an evolved mature professional, we value making a difference; and as a leader, we value leaving a legacy.

Generational values

It is also worth noting that as the generations evolve, young people (Generation Y and Generation Z) value different things and have different needs based on the world they are growing up in, such as the recession, Brexit, smartphone/social media culture which will all be influencing their values.
Your personal values are at the core of who you are, what you believe in, your self-worth and how you behave. Can you think of a time when you were in conflict with someone and add to the discussion below? Chances are they had ‘pushed a button relating to one of your values.

Being ethical

It can’t be known how a person is going to behave based on their values alone. Being ethical is about how you live your values. Two people may have the same values but they may live them in very different ways:
For example, two athletes will have a high priority value of achievement and success. One will take illegal performance enhancing drugs to boost their chances of success the other won’t.

This brings us back to your moral compass or what influences your ethical stance. This is childhood upbringing, beliefs, culture, later life experiences including codes of conduct, social norms and being a member of a professional body as well as talking about ethical dilemmas.

© CIOB Academy
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