Your Values Matter – But What Are They?

A fundamental part of anyone’s personal brand is their Values. They sit at the top of the personal brand pyramid (which comprises six key elements) but also sit at the heart of who we are.

But what I’ve discovered is that, whilst people know Values are important, they don’t necessarily have a clear picture what constitutes a Value. There are plenty of definitions out there – some of which I agree with, plenty of which I don’t – so to help you gain some clarity, here’s my take on things.

The definition

For something to be a Value, it has to have a moral element. In other words, it says something about how you choose to live your life, specifically with regard to the difference (as you see it) between right and wrong, good and bad, or if you’re a Star Wars fan, following the Jedi path or going to The Dark Side.

Put another way, your Values set the direction of your moral compass and, especially when faced with a troubling dilemma, dictate how you act.

The litmus test

To check if something is a Value or not (according to my definition) there’s a litmus test you can carry out.

Step 1: Imagine you have a situation where you need to decide what action to take, but the aspects of that situation have left you with a moral dilemma, conflicted as to what is the right/good/Jedi thing to do.

(Not like the person on my workshop who said they had a moral dilemma, in that they couldn’t decide whether to keep their money in savings or buy a house – which I pointed out was actually a financial dilemma.)

To illustrate, imagine you’ve prepared a report for the Board about an issue within your department and your boss has asked you to alter one of the numbers in it to “put us in a better light”. You’ve just been landed with a moral dilemma.

Step 2: Once you’ve imagined the situation, think about what course of action you would take to resolve the dilemma. Then insert that into the following statement and identify the Value that’s led you to your conclusion:

I’m going to [the action you’ve decided you’d take]

because it’s the [Value] thing to do.

If your action makes sense and would be a serious and sensible thing to do in a moral dilemma, your decision has indeed been led by a Value. But if that moral element isn’t there, and your action seems less serious (and maybe even a little spurious, in the context of the dilemma) what you think is a Value is more likely to be a Driver, Behaviour, Skill or Strength (which are also key elements of the brand pyramid).

To illustrate using the previous example, you might think:

‘I’m going to do as my boss says and change the number because it’s the loyal thing to do.’ [Loyalty clearly being the Value here.]


‘I’m going to keep the number the same because it’s the honest thing to do.’ [Honesty is the  Value here.]

Here’s where it doesn’t work

Now let’s apply the litmus test to illustrate what other people have told me are Values but which, according to my definition, are something else entirely.

Like the client who said humour was his key Value. But when I put a moral dilemma to him and asked, “Would you decide your course of action based on the funny thing to do?” agreed it didn’t stack up as a Value, but was more of a Driver ie he needed to have fun whilst working.

Or the person who told me listening was her Value, but who agreed the listening itself didn’t have any moral aspect. (She didn’t face a dilemma and think ‘I’m going to [choice of action] because it’s the listening thing to do’.)

Instead, she discovered listening was the action she took because of her Value of equality (a moral desire for everyone to get a chance to be heard) that sat behind it. The listening didn’t disappear from her brand though; it simply moved to sit in her Skills/Strengths element.

So there you have it. The Holloway Dictionary definition of a Value – what it is, what it isn’t and how to tell the difference.

How would you define a Value? Do you agree it has a moral aspect? Or is there another factor that matters? The comment box is ready and waiting below and I’d love to hear from you.


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6 responses to “Your Values Matter – But What Are They?”

  1. Cameron Thomson says:

    Morning Jennifer,

    An interesting read, as always. We do a lot of values based work with organisations and I agree there is most definitely a moral element to them – in other words, they go beyond what the law requires us to do. They guide our decision making and provide our “true North” ( I like your compass image).

    I hope these couple of thoughts are helpful to your readers,
    – Values themselves aren’t that important. The passion with which we hold them is what’s actually important.
    – The more clearly we understand our values the less reliance we have on a “rule book”. Who has a rule book / manual for their family ? Of course not, because we know / sense what’s acceptable and unacceptable.
    – A useful exercise in identifying “core” values is the “opposites” exercise. Identify what behaviours, when we encounter them, really insult us ? Something visceral happens, they provoke a reaction – then ask ourselves, “what would be the opposite of that behaviour ?” the answer is likely to lead us to identifying a core value.

    Keep posting please, great “value” (no pun intended), in your content for us.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      Those are all great points – thank you. You’re very right about how effective it can be to think of a negative reaction to pinpoint the positive value behind it. It’s often when I ask that in my workshops that a load of mental light bulbs go on.

  2. Denis Kaye says:

    Excellent post Jennifer. I’d like to add that I find it helpful to identify what a particular value means in the context of a particular business. As an example, ‘honesty, (and who would not have that as a value?) should be defined in terms of how it affects behaviours in the business; a lawyer may advise a client to take a simple action themselves rather than paying the lawyer, so the lawyer forgoes a billing opportunity because they believe it is the best thing for the ‘client’. Actually my example may be one of ‘integrity’ rather than ‘honesty’! But hopefully you get the point?

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      That’s interesting you should use the word ‘integrity’ Dennis. I’m actually planning on pulling apart that particular value in my next post, because it’s such an indistinct value.

  3. Tony O says:

    Great read, Jennifer, to present a simple way of telling the difference between values, drivers and the rest that sits in the pyramid. I shall have to find a practical use for this in discussions that I have (preferably without getting beheaded for it). I sometimes see people declaring values and then observe them doing something in contradiction of them, straight away calling into question what it is that they truly believe.

    • Jennifer Holloway says:

      It’s one thing to know what value is, but as you say Tony, it’s worth nowt if you don’t walk the talk.

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