core values

Core values define how you live, work and make decisions.

By Andy Bailiey

Every day I work with people to figure out who they are – specifically, what are their “core values?” Now, that term gets thrown around a lot, so let me explain: Core values are the characteristics and rules that drive companies and individuals, and define how they live, work and make decisions. They are the behaviors that define us.

In support of a “core purpose,” which defines why we exist as an individual or business, core values are extremely powerful. Discovering and articulating them can mean the difference between a cohesive team vs. a group of employees, and personal confusion vs. focused identity.

Years ago, I attended a meeting that helped me define my personal core values – stability, preparedness and significance. I value stability, which I find with my wife and the home life she provides for my two daughters and me. I value being well prepared, whether it’s for a quarterly planning session with a client or workout at the gym. And finally, I need to know that what I’m doing has significance on the planet – that I’ve made a difference for another person. Realizing and defining these values has given my life and my business more focus than it ever had before, and finding those values is part of my everyday work individuals and businesses across the country. I’ve done this for my business, and you can too.

Here’s how:

Brainstorm it. There are no wrong answers. Say whatever comes to mind. Grab a pen and a post-it pad to write down your ideas. Come up with three to four words or phrases that resonate with you, and give yourself a time limit – say five or ten minutes. That way, you’ll trick your brain into delivering what you need when you need it, and won’t overthink things.

Wallpaper the room. Now it’s time to look at everything you’ve got. What jumps out at you? What do you see that you can’t even believe you wrote? Any surprises? If you can, put your choices up on large sticky notes around the room. There’s something about stepping back and looking at your options and seeing things from a different point of view.

Have an auction. That’s right, you heard me. This is something like the exercise I did to reveal my own core values. It forces you to ask the tough questions and make tough choices. And, you can do this individually or in a group. If you only had $2,000 to spend, and each core value cost $500, where would you spend your money? You’d be surprised how fast the cream rises to the top when there’s money involved. The ideas that may have seemed important before will fall away in favor of what really matters to you and your business. Once you’ve narrowed things down and made your final choices, you’re on your way.

Live your values. This is the important part. You’ve put in the work. You figured out what you value most. Now, use those core values to guide the decisions you make. If they’re just for you, how will those values impact the decisions you make at home and at work? If they are for your business, how will they affect the way you help your employees do their best work? How will they impact the way you deal with clients and customers on a day-to-day basis?

For me, every decision I make in my life is informed by and supports the core values I’ve identified for myself. If parts of my life don’t line up, I make changes. Do this for yourself and your business, and involve everyone at the company if possible. It’s fun, and will give your team a unified vision for everything they do. What are your core values?

Andy Bailey is lead entrepreneur coach with business coaching firm Petra and serves in an advisory role on the Gazelles Council, the leaders of the scale up movement. Visit his blog at for more business and leadership insight.