Executive Coaching: When Your Values Shift

  • 7 mins read

Everyone knows how important it is to “know yourself,” yet how often do we reflect on why we do what we do? (Or, for that matter, what did we do?) Do we really understand our motives and values?

Before graduating from high school, most of us participated in interest inventories and career aptitude tests. By the time we graduate from college, our interests, studies, and skills have aligned. We anticipate we’re on a path best suited to our personality, talents, and education.

And yet…most of us don’t recognize the extent of our complexity. Our personal preferences and unique sense of values are buried under layers of expectations and demands. To add to the complexity, our values shift over time.

When we identify as or claim to be, a specific type of person (kind, caring, and genuine), but our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors indicate otherwise (we are resentful, rude, and just want other people to fall into line), we may be unaware of our true values.   

Of course, we are quick to notice when we see this happen in others. Our perception may be that they are inauthentic, manipulative, fake, or even hypocritical.

When our own behaviors are incongruent with what we claim to value, many of us have a physical reaction: a twinge, cringe, or moment when our body says, “no!”

But just as common, we learn to ignore these uncomfortable feelings. Eventually, we stop paying attention. We become mistaken about our own identity, unaware of the shift in our values.

This can manifest in a mid-career crisis. Our careers are progressing satisfactorily, and one day we wonder, “How did I end up here?”

Executive coaching leadership development tips for self-value assessment.

How Your Values Shift

In reality, our values are dynamic. With enough time or experience, the hierarchy of our values can change. Typically, the shifts occur as a result of:

▶ New knowledge

▶ Social values and attitudes

▶ Personal experience

In a 2015 study, researchers Valdiney V. Gouveia, Kátia C. Vione, Taciano L. Milfont, and Ronald Fischer studied more than 36,000 individuals across five geo-social regions and found that regardless of gender, values substantially change throughout life.

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Why This Matters

Your values are the underlying foundation of your inspiration, vision, and motivation. They help you set a course to what you believe truly matters; they guide you to purpose and fulfillment. Understanding when and how your values shift will help you make adjustments and improvements in performance, satisfaction, and happiness.

Understand What Drives You

Our ideas of self are molded at a very early age. Parents, caregivers, and teachers encourage certain behaviors that help us integrate with our peers. We are encouraged to go along, to get along.

Unfortunately, even well intentioned adults can send messages counter to our actual nature or personality type. “You are so good at following the rules,” doesn’t acknowledge your ability (and desire) to question arbitrary or unfair rules.  We develop a limited, if not warped, sense of self.

In reality, we are remarkably complex. Our environment and social context contribute to our actions; they influence our values and motivations.  

According to Johnmarshall Reeve, PsyD, in “Understanding Motivation and Emotion,” (Wiley, 2018), “Through our unique experiences, exposures to particular role models, and awareness of cultural expectations, we acquire different goals, values, attitudes, expectations, aspirations, and views of self.”  

What Is Driving You?

All humans have four basic drives that are embedded in our genetic DNA and remain active in us today:

1️⃣ The drive to acquire

2️⃣ The drive to bond

3️⃣ The drive to learn

4️⃣ The drive to defend

These basic drives have helped us survive as a species. But what drives us beyond mere survival? How do we go from survival to thriving?

Hierarchy of Values

Based on their research, Drs. Eduard Spranger and Gordon Allport identified a hierarchy of values that, in certain combinations, shape our interests and level of satisfaction:

▶ Aesthetic:  A drive for balance, harmony, and form

▶ Altruistic:  A drive to help others in humanitarian efforts

▶ Economic:  A drive for economic or practical returns

▶ Individualistic: A drive to stand out as independent and unique

▶ Political: A drive to have influence, to be in control

▶ Regulatory:  A drive to establish order, routine, and structure

▶ Theoretical:  A drive for knowledge, learning, and understanding

Understanding your hierarchy of values—how you rate each value and how they combine—can help you understand what drives you and how you can go from surviving to thriving.

Executive Coaching: What Are Your Values Today?

Most of us feel the need to assess our values—what is truly important to us—at some point in our lives. Unfortunately, we often avoid this task; it’s much easier to keep doing what we’re doing. But then something happens that jolts us out of our complacency.

It could be the loss of something (a promotion or position) or someone (a loved one or the respect of a colleague). Or, a more minor event that illuminated something was just not right: new knowledge, understanding, or perspective. It’s time to examine your values.

The most current version of Drs. Allport, Vernon, and Lindzey’s instrument to measure value hierarchy  (IMX Values Index, or VI profile) has been updated with seven dimensions:

1️⃣ Aesthetic: Each experience is judged from the standpoint of grace, symmetry, or fit. Contrary to the theoretical dimension, life is seen as a procession of events, each enjoyed for its own sake. My chief interest is in the beauty of life.

2️⃣ Altruistic: prizes other persons as ends and is kind, sympathetic, and unselfish. Contrary to the political dimension, love is the only suitable form of human relationship.

3️⃣ Economic: interested in what is useful and practical; focused on security and bottom-line results. In some instances, he may have regard for the regulatory dimension but frequently conflicts with other values.

4️⃣ Individualistic: seeks to express uniqueness and be granted freedom over actions. Contrary to the political dimension, it seeks neither power nor control of others or the environment in general but rails against subjugation by any external force.

5️⃣ Political: interested primarily in power and control, whatever the vocation, and is the most universal and fundamental of motives. Prizes for personal power, influence, and renown.

6️⃣ Regulatory: Although it is often described as mystical, regulatory action is directed at achieving structure, order, and unity with the system.

7️⃣ Theoretical: interested in the discovery of truth. Divest itself of judgments regarding the beauty or utility of objects and seeks only to observe, reason, understand, and systematize knowledge.

The two highest-scoring dimensions are the most inspirational. The middle three are situational: in certain circumstances, they might be a factor. The two lowest-scoring dimensions are actually demotivational, and it is important to note this.

A qualified executive coach can help you rate these seven dimensions and identify the 21 combinations influencing interests and driving behavior.

For example, if you score high for the altruistic dimension but are average in the economic dimension, you may be inclined to give away your expertise or products or even compromise on your salary requirements. Knowing this about yourself can help you plan how and when to say “yes.”

This is just one example. Identifying your values today will help you understand what drives you, motivates you, and inspires you. It will also help you become more effective in everything you do.

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