Leaders, how can you identify your values?

Will Polston, author of North Star Thinking explains how understanding your own values and drivers can help leaders discover their ‘genius zone’, where inspiration trumps all other drivers.

The Greek philosophy of axiology is arguably one of the most important of the ‘ologies’. As the study of the nature of value and valuation and the kinds of things that are valuable, it is a cornerstone of aesthetics and economics.

What exactly is a value? It is anything that you place importance upon. You could also use the word ‘priority’ interchangeably with value. Your values are created from a perception of a void that you have. Note that I said a perception of a void; there isn’t necessarily a void. These perceptions can be determined from your conscious or subconscious mind. The thing that you perceive to be missing most then becomes what you perceive as the most important thing in your life.

Your private voids are your overlying public values. When you get clear on your values, then you can consciously shape your own life, maybe for the first time, rather than living someone else’s life through a set of values that has been projected on to you. The latter is how most people live without realising it. I used to be one of those people, and if you are currently then that is about to change.

Not all values are equal. The more important a value is to you, the higher it will be on your hierarchy and the more discipline and order you will associate with it. Additionally, whatever you value most will be what you have the clearest memory recall around. Whatever you have placed least value on, you will have the least discipline, order and memory recall around.

Two types of values

A means value is typically something that we do. An end value is usually a feeling. For example, someone might have a means value of socialising with friends, but their end value is connection. Someone else might have an end value of connection, but the way they get that is via spending time with family. It’s a different means value. The end value is what we are looking to create, but ultimately, all means values lead to fulfilment – the feeling we’re all striving for.

Take the word fulfilment: full-fill-ment. As our values come from a perceived void, deep down, we want to ‘fill full’ that void. Given it’s our perception of a void you could also see fulfilment as fill-ing- full-ment-ally.

I encourage you to use the word fulfilment instead of happiness, because happiness is one end of a spectrum. The other end of the spectrum is sadness. What’s beautiful about living in accordance with your values is that you can experience challenge, drawbacks and disadvantage and still feel fulfilled, with the appropriate perspective that comes from living your values while feeling either happiness or sadness.

That’s where optimal growth happens – on the border between support and challenge, benefit and drawback, advantage and disadvantage, etc. When you perceive yourself to be at the border, it means you’re living in emotional balance.

Your values enable you to live consciously and create a fulfilled life, but how do you do that? Let’s start with how to identify what your values are.

Awaken your genius

Your North Star reflects your highest means and end values right now. When you live according to your highest values, you’ll become inspired and operate in your zone of genius. When you live according to your lowest values, you’ll require external motivation and suppress your zone of genius.

We all have three drivers:

  • Pain
  • Pleasure
  • Inspiration

Pain and pleasure are two forces fuelled by desperation. Most people live their life being driven by pain or pleasure, not realising that any time they think they’re feeling more of one than the other, it’s an illusion.

The third driver, inspiration, transcends the other two. While desperation may spur you into action, it won’t guarantee you purposeful fulfilment, so when things get challenging, you’ll more than likely give up. When you are driven by inspiration, you’ll be aware of the costs and challenges of something, as well as the rewards and benefits, and do it anyway. When you’re inspired, you’ll embrace both pleasure and pain in the pursuit of your North Star.

People who have huge resentment towards someone or something can achieve emotional balance. So can people who are infatuated with someone or something. Both ends of the pleasure and pain spectrum are illusions, albeit ones that feel real. The moment you balance your mind with a different perspective, your perception of pain and pleasure will disappear, and you’ll find yourself in a state of presence, enthusiasm, love, certainty, gratitude and inspiration – these are transcendental feelings.

You have the capacity to do this in any moment. Emotions are simply signals. They are feedback mechanisms to get you to think or act differently and bring you back into balance so you can live in the congruent state of presence, enthusiasm, love, certainty, gratitude and inspiration. By knowing your values, you can consciously choose to live in a state of inspiration rather than requiring motivation. Inspiration comes from within; motivation comes externally.

This an extract from North Star Thinking by Will Polston.