How well do your values support what you do?

Values are not static; they can shift and evolve over time, as we grow as humans.

In my studies for Values Profiling accreditation, we consider the evolutionary nature of values when it comes to human development. Adults may develop more and more sophisticated ways of understanding and navigating the world as they adapt and grow within it. Along with that, our values can shift and evolve too, becoming ever more complex. Each stage of values has a core strength, as well as a downside. (For more in-depth analysis of each stage see the work of Clare Graves, and his colleagues Don Beck and Chris Cowan in Spiral Dynamics.

This is a transcend and include model; we take the values from earlier stages with us as we develop, building on their strengths and healing their dark sides.


In earlier stages of development, we experience the world in more basic terms. We master survival needs first. Our values centre around getting through the day. The strength of this of course is that we live to see another day! The downside is that we do not have any forward planning. Once our needs are met, we’re done for the day.


Being part of a group helps us be safe. This is a step up from the lone-wolf survivors at earlier stages. Tribes and belonging are powerful, heady experiences, chock full of oxytocin and serotonin. While being included and protected is glorious, we often lack direction. Our focus is on fitting in, not standing out.


Once we realise there is a benefit in taking charge, our systems can get hooked with the energising nature of power. Leading from the front, passion, enthusiasm, and excessive responsibility is a counterpoint to the stay safe aspect of our earlier focus on belonging. The danger of this set of values is that we might fall into the traps of power through micro-managing and egocentricity.


As a response to the excesses of power, we adapt the values related to order: structure, process, systems. This can rein in the energy from the power values set and build something stable and ethical. The danger here is in becoming too rigid and fundamentalist in our perspective.


The energy from the earlier power set of values returns, but expressed through the boundaries of the order stage. Here we focus on goals and results, success, problem-solving and win at all costs. The energising aspect of winning creates momentum in competition. The dark side here is addiction to the dopamine hits of success. Greed can dominate.


If we discover the negative aspects of the wealth obsession, we swing our values back towards the collective. We become concerned about all people, emphasising that we are all equal. We obsess over perspective and including everyone’s point of view. While a strong focus on community and sharing emerges here, so too does being judgmental – of those who are not as inclusive as us! It’s a huge blindspot for this stage. Everyone is equal, except for the people who don’t believe we are all equal. We can be judgmental and polarising as a result.


It is a quantum leap to this stage from social values. Here we start to master the interconnected nature of systems and perspectives. We become fascinated by complexity and focus on innovation and transformation. We love disruption and thrive on volatility. Our downside at this stage is appearing too aloof, too caught up in complex ideas. Only 1.5% of people on the planet are at this stage of values development.


Here we drop the push for innovation and move to more cause-driven roles. Rather than pushing new systems, we observe how systems might unfold in the longer-term. We become deeply humble, in service to a cause and balancing the bigger systems. Only 0.5% of the population is here. We can appear unhelpful and baffling to others unless we ground our language and interactions in a way accessible to earlier stages of values development.

Which values do you resonate with? Which ones are working for you? Which dark sides do you need to be mindful of?


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  • Zoë Routh

    Australia's Leadership Expert, Author of Book of the Year "People Stuff" l Speaker l Mentor l Strategist

    Zoë Routh is one of Australia’s leading experts on people stuff - the stuff that gets in our way of producing results, and the stuff that lights us up. She works with the growers, makers, builders to make people stuff fun and practical.

    Zoë is the author of four books: Composure - How centered leaders make the biggest impact,  Moments - Leadership when it matters most, Loyalty - Stop unwanted staff turnover, boost engagement, and build lifelong advocates, and People Stuff - Beyond Personalities: An advanced handbook for leadership. People Stuff was awarded Book of the Year 2020 by the Smart WFM Australian Business Book Awards.

    Zoë is also the producer of The Zoë Routh Leadership Podcast.