Core values, risk and opportunity

Whether people admit it or otherwise, values are incredibly important to them. People will invest enormous amounts of time and energy to rationalise their values, defend their values and even convince others of the value of their values. Values are not things easily set aside. When we leave home in the morning, we bring our values with us and they speak to us, during every communication, every decision, every action and every question. So as leaders, it is critical that we are clear and aware of our values and how they align (or don’t) with the people and the business.

While there has been much research done around values (and the research extends into other domains such as motivation, goal-theory and neuroscience) over the last forty years (Rokeach, Debats, Feather, Maslow, Schwartz and Bilsky), at the end of the day, we believe that there are only 4 core, or archetypal values, of which all others are variations or combinations. These values are: power, significance, knowledge and connection. We all have these core values. However, how we understand them and articulate them is often very different. Even after 20 years working with clients, mainly in a coaching role, it never ceases to surprise me the similarities, yet intricate differences between people’s values and their expression. For one person, power is an evil thing, to be shunned and avoided at all costs. For another person, power is something yearned for and seen as a positive, stabilising influence.

When it comes to decision-making around risk and opportunity, particularly in a corporate context, it is vital that people understand, accept and create a dialogue with the values that revolve around the decision. As leaders, we are responsible for safe-guarding the well-being of our staff yet at the same, creating a high-performance culture. We must establish and protect efficient and effective processes, yet seek to change our models in order to remain relevant in the market. We must take up the banner and boldly lead our people and our business into the future, yet also allow other people to lead and be autonomous so that they can realise their potential. It is a tight-rope act that never ends.

In support of Griffith University’s Risk Awareness Week 2014 and seminar “Everything you wanted to know about risk, but were too afraid to ask”, we developed four self-reflection worksheets for university staff to use over the week. Each worksheet focuses on one of the core values, but always in the context of risk and opportunity. For every choice we make, there is an opportunity loss and an opportunity gain. And there is always a learning, no matter what happens.


People tend to learn better and act on their learnings when they are in control and have autonomy. People generally do not like being told what to do. They feel a stronger sense of personal power and self-efficacy when they can make their own decisions and create their own structures.


People like to feel significant, like they have achieved something. People like to feel that they are moving forward, improving and achieving goals. People also need to feel a level of status and significance both personally and in social situations.


People like to know why. They enjoy solving problems and puzzles and finding out how things work. People are generally curious and enjoy exploring, creating, learning new things and growing. People also need to feel a level of variety and change within their field of experience.


People like to feel connected to others and/or a part of something bigger than themselves. People like to feel that they belong – it gives them social identity and a place in a community. People need to have interests and hobbies that they can lose themselves in and day-dream.

By chris

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