Values, preferences, needs, and wants (oh my!)

Photo of Captain Obvious“Values are important” – there’s a real Captain Obvious statement, hm?

I’ve written about values before, and I call out that importance – quite emphatically – in the Empowered Leadership program.

But how do we go about discovering and defining our values – instead of just taking it for granted that of course we have them?

My thoughts on this have changed.

In the Leadership program segment, I followed the example of Barry Salzberg, past CEO of Deloitte and currently a Columbia Business School professor. But his approach, which I heard about on a podcast interview, leads to a whole … I hesitate to say this, given his prominence … laundry list of “values” that I never felt quite comfortable with.

Thinking about this, I’ve concluded that what often happens is that we confuse preferences (such as “being kind”), needs (such as “I need time for personal reflection”), and wants (such as “I want to be part of a close community”).

If you’ve really, truly dug deep and identified your core values, you’ll almost certainly discover that there are just two – maybe three – that are your actual values. Everything else – those preferences, needs, and wants – fits under one or the other (or both).

Mine: fun and integrity.

A preference for being kind: integrity. Needing time for personal reflection: integrity (personal integrity to self) AND fun. Being part of a community: fun!

Environmental responsibility: integrity. Lifelong learning and reading: fun.

And so on. (I’ll stop boring you with my personal lists!)

If these correlations make no sense to you, that’s absolutely understandable. You (probably) don’t share my core values, nor should you adopt my preferences, wants, or needs.

Values aren't preferences, needs, or desires. They're something bigger than that - more than that - and when you've defined them correctly, your values will encompass your preferences / needs / desires.Click To Tweet

You have your own values. And when you drill down deep enough (or climb high enough!) to find them, you’ll see how your preferences, wants, and needs will fit.

It’s … fun!


Fun. Work should be more fun! That’s SUCH a value of mine that it’s a core principle of my work, which you can read more about here.

Yes, I am updating the Empowered Leadership program to reflect this change. Curious about the program? Learn more here.


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