Values Exploration: Authentic Leadership Alliance

Thanks to Susan Tardanico for these insightful and detailed instructions for using Values Explorer. These instructions are great for individual, self-guided values exploration, and are a wonderful template for a facilitator or teacher working with a group. Susan knows what she is talking about.

Susan Tardanico is a former senior executive and Officer of Textron, founder and CEO of Authentic Leadership Alliance, and Executive in Residence at the Center for Creative Leadership.

Values Explorer Instructions

Values are what drive and motivate us. We can make better choices when we’re clear about what really matters to us. Values underpin our authenticity and help shape our leadership style.

This exercise is intended to help you “dig deep” and think about your values in a new way.

Obtain the Values Explorer card deck from the Center for Creative Leadership (

When you have at least two hours of quiet time (alone) and plenty of space around you
(a large table or floor space), open the Values Explorer box.

Lay out all the blue cards with the big words on them (Values cards), so you can see all 44
cards at once.

In a separate space (within reach), lay out three of the yellow cards: “Always Valued,” “Often Valued,” and “Sometimes Valued.”

Take the three blank cards (they have blue borders on the top /bottom and white in the middle) and set aside.

Put the remaining yellow cards and the instruction cards back into the box. Disregard them.

Clear your mind and eliminate any feelings of self-consciousness or fear of being judged.
For this process to deliver any benefit to you, you must approach it authentically and truthfully. No one will see how you group things. There are no right or wrong – or good or bad – choices here. The only “bad move” is when you try to be someone you’re not – making choices you think are more socially acceptable or what other people expect of you, regardless of whether they’re true to you.

Read each blue card carefully – the value and its definition. At first you may think certain terms are redundant, but there are nuances that make them different. These nuances are important as you think about what really makes you tick.

After considering the nuances, if you still feel that some are redundant and therefore are confusing you, take the redundant cards “out of play” (put them back into the box) and use the card that best summarizes how you define that particular topic. Try to minimize the number of times you do this, because if you integrate too much into one value and over-generalize, it becomes so amorphous that it loses its meaning and its power to help you make good choices and decisions.

After internalizing and considering the concepts on each of the blue cards, eliminate any
values that don’t matter to you at all. Put those cards back into the box.

Take the remaining cards and divide them into three equally-sized groups based on their relative importance to you. The cards that belong in each group will be placed under the 3 yellow cards so you have a visual separation from one group to another. Group #1 – the values that matter most to you — will go under the yellow “Always Valued” header. Group #2 – the values that are still important, but not as important as Group #1 — will go under “Often Valued,” and Group #3 will go under “Sometimes Valued.” Please do not get hung up on these headers. Just because something is in the third group, it doesn’t mean that it’s unimportant to you. It simply means it’s less important to you relative to the values in Groups 1 and 2. Place each card so that you can see it through the entire exercise.

Don’t be surprised if you find yourself frustrated and agonizing over where certain values belong, and/or moving a card from one category to the next and back again. It’s all part of the process. You may be inclined to place more cards in Group #1 than is allowed. Force yourself to make the choice. Think about what really matters to you most. Think about what makes you truly happy, fulfilled and at peace. What are you passionate about? Think about what you value in friends, colleagues and family members. Think about the kinds of behaviors that drive you crazy and that you cannot stand. These are all cues that can help you separate values into the groups. A feeling of ambivalence is also telling – it means that you don’t care about the value as much as others. Put it into group #3 or take it out of play.

At any point in this exercise, if you feel that a certain value is very important to you but isn’t represented on the blue cards, write it on one of the blank cards and treat it as an equal to the blue cards. For example, Harmony (compatibility and agreeability; lack of discord and conflict) is not in the card deck. Neither is Nurturing (needing to be needed; investing oneself in the well-being of another). If you create your own Value card, be sure to include a definition that specifies what the Value means.

Once you have placed all the cards into the three equal (or near-equal, depending upon how many cards you’re working with) groups, take the cards in groups 2 and 3 (Often Valued and Sometimes Valued) and put them back into the box.

Working only with Group 1 (“Always Valued”), narrow it down to your top ten values.
Then, working with the remaining ten cards, select your top five values.

CONGRATULATIONS! You’ve just accomplished something that many people fail to do.
You are now equipped with a very powerful lens through which to evaluate various aspects of your life and the choices you’ve made. And if you stay aware of these core values – and honor them – you can make even better decisions in the future!

Thanks to Susan Tardanico. More information at 

About Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth

Charles J. Palus & David Magellan Horth are Senior Fellows at the Center for Creative Leadership. Many thanks to Steadman Harrison III, CEO of GO, and Senior Associate for the Center for Creative Leadership.
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