How to discover your core values.

In the journey of life, we encounter various choices, challenges, and opportunities as leaders that unveil our character, motivations, and personality. These moments, ranging from life-altering decisions to daily choices, are shaped by the principles we hold dear – our values, silently operating in our subconscious. 

Over the past quarter-century, I’ve traveled to more than 180 countries, delving into how values influence behaviors, relationships, and culture. This exploration has led me to understand that values not only define a nation’s history and culture but also underpin its global impact. Witnessing firsthand how values mold individuals, organizations, and communities, I’ve observed their role in driving transformative change and fostering growth.

Dr Mandeep Rai

By examining the values reflected in countries, we can decipher and adopt our own guiding principles. Each nation serves as an embodiment of certain values, offering a framework for shaping our decisions, be they monumental or mundane. 

For instance, the entrepreneurial spirit in the United States traces back to a centuries-old promise that spurred immigrants to explore new frontiers, while South Africa’s emphasis on forgiveness highlights the role of contrition and meaningful change in addressing past injustices.  

In my book, which identifies values in 101 countries, and through my travels, valuable and insightful lessons emerge from understanding diverse cultural values. 

The unchanging nature of values 

From my extensive research, three fundamental truths about values persist: 

  1. Values are deeply entrenched. Values observed in countries, companies, and communities are deeply rooted. Despite geopolitical shifts and transient political movements, values remain the unyielding core of national identity, providing sustenance through crises and transformations. 
  2. Our values are the essence of who we are. They serve as our operating system, influencing how we relate to others, make decisions, and shape our lives. A profound understanding of our values is crucial for becoming the best version of ourselves, both personally and professionally.
  3. Values help us find common ground. Despite apparent differences, we share more similarities through our values than we realize. While beliefs may divide, values have the power to unite. Recognizing and empathizing with others’ values can bridge gaps, resolving conflicts rooted in clashing principles. 

Building values in organizations 

Just as values sustain nations, they are vital for leaders, employees, and organizations, providing a shared cultural foundation. My research reveals that companies with a clear purpose and strong values attract loyal customers and dedicated employees. 

Visionary leaders, like Ajay Banga, President of Mastercard, recognize the transformative power of values. Mastercard’s focus on financial inclusion and growth aligns with Banga’s personal values, creating a virtuous circle that extends to their impactful foundation.  

Leaders such as Chip Bergh of Levi Strauss and Paul Polman of Unilever emphasize the importance of values in shaping their organizations’ identities. The commitment to empathy, integrity, courage, and originality forms the backbone of these values-driven companies. 

This values-centric approach is gaining momentum, with organizations like, led by Mohit Midha, prioritizing mental health and meaningful relationships over superficial metrics. The commitment to values transcends borders and industries, creating a positive impact on both individuals and societies. Also Kathy Eldon who set up Creative Visions, a non-profit organization to support creative activists who use arts and media to ignite positive change. 

Personal exploration of values 

Beyond the organizational context, understanding and embracing values also plays a pivotal role in personal leadership development. Individuals worldwide make values-based decisions daily, often unconsciously. However, actively acknowledging and aligning personal values with life decisions empowers leaders to navigate challenges with clarity. 

My book, ‘The Values Compass,’ underscores the significance of clearly defined values. Once identified, these values serve as a guiding compass, eliminating ambiguity in decision-making. To pinpoint your core values, consider questions like recognizing your heroes, recalling moments when core values felt violated, and contemplating what you want to be remembered for. 

As you define your values, aim for a concise list of five core values that resonate deeply with you. These intrinsic beliefs will shape your purpose, providing consistency and direction in decision-making, fostering a fulfilling and purpose-driven life. 

Uniting organizations through key values 

In organizations, a delicate balance exists between fostering diversity of thought and uniting everyone under key values. Surveying employees to identify common core values or having leadership define the organizational stance can create a powerful sense of unity. 

At the organizational level, distilling core values to a handful is akin to defining the institution’s DNA. This foundation shapes the entire organizational ecosystem, influencing language, recognition metrics, and design.  

As organizations build from this solid base, they create a culture that resonates with employees and customers alike. 

By Dr Mandeep Rai 

Dr Mandeep Rai is a global authority on values, working with companies, institutions, and individuals around the world. She is author of The Values Compass: What 101 Countries Teach Us About Purpose, Life and Leadership.