“When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.” ~ Roy Disney
Values strengthen our self-awareness, self-confidence and sense of security. They guide us in making fulfilling choices and enable us to act with integrity. Values help us choose between conflicting priorities and point us to where we need to concentrate our personal improvement efforts. When we act congruent with our values they give us credibility, and help us to know where we stand and clarify what we will and will not tolerate.
In the workplace, values help us understand what motivates employees and what drives them to make the career choices they do. Values help us shape an organization’s culture and we can evaluate the extent to which our personal values are aligned with those of the team or organization.
We make choices daily, some of minor significance, others of great importance, and each of those choices have an impact not only on us, but often those around us. Even a seemingly insignificant choice to snack on a chocolate instead of an apple could be having a negative impact on our health, which in the longer term could result not only in undesirable consequences for us, but people around us may be negatively affected too. So how do we make these choices in a way that serves not only us but those around us better? How do we know what is best?
The answer is that we cannot always know what is best and therefore it does not matter whether we can figure out what is best or not. What really matters is the intention behind our choice. If our intentions are honorable and we are sincerely trying to make a choice that will serve those involved either as individuals or as a collective, then if our choice turns out to be the wrong one, our conscience is clear and we can be open to learning from the choice we made. So how do we know that we are acting with good intentions?
One of the keys to answering this question is our set of Personal Values.
In their book The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work, Zeus and Skiffington suggest that our values influence the way we respond to people and events, direct and motivate us towards certain goals and even influence our choice of career and partners (Zeus & Skiffington, 2001). Values and fulfillment are linked and discovering and clarifying them creates a map that guides us along the decision paths of our lives. Values help us take a stand and make choices based on what is fulfilling to us. Honoring our values is inherently fulfilling even when it is hard (Whitworth, Kimsey-House, Kimsey-House, & Sandahl, 2007).
Understanding one’s own core values is integral to becoming self-aware. Self-awareness, in turn, helps us understand how people perceive us and allows us to identify the personal qualities that we would like to change (Whetten & Cameron, 2010). Clemmer supports this view maintaining that a key element of “knowing thyself” is sorting out what’s really important to you. Without a clear sense of your personal values, it’s almost impossible to bring the picture of your preferred future sharply into focus (Clemmer, 1995).
Another reason why values are important to us is that people who internalize and act on standards of justice and human rights achieve a high level of moral development, and they make ethical decisions (Kohlberg, 1976). Dr Scott Williams concurs. According to Williams having a clear set of personal values helps us build the credibility and trust that facilitate leadership. The most challenging times for leaders are times when they must lead others into “the unknown,” leading innovation, and managing change. Transformational leaders are able to persuade their followers to take a leap of faith and follow them into the unknown. In other words, transformational leaders build trust. Trust is a willingness to take a risk and make oneself vulnerable. We are more inclined to trust people when we understand their values, and see that their actions are congruent with those values, because we can reliably predict how they will act. (Williams)
James Kouzes and Barry Posner’s study of credible and effective leaders (Kouzes & Posner, 2011) led them to conclude, “Values are directly relevant to credibility. To do what we say we will do (our respondents’ behavioral definition of credibility), we must know what we want to do and how we wish to behave. That’s what our values help us to define.”
Williams also argues that at the most practical level values are important to us because an understanding of one’s personal values is useful for time management. Most of us have the opportunity — not to mention the encouragement — to do more things than we’ll ever have time to do. Consequently, we need to wisely select the tasks that we’ll work on. A clear picture of our personal values allows us to rank the tasks on our “to do” lists according to how closely each task is associated with what’s really important to us.
Values are not just a personal matter. Values are important in the workplace too. Our environment and life experiences shape our values, and social systems such as business organizations, schools and churches influence their members’ values. Therefore, effective team leaders and business executives build common values among the people they lead.
Edgar Schein of MIT (Schein, 1990) identified eight themes — Schein’s Career Anchors — and has shown that people will have prioritized preferences for these. For example a person with a primary theme of Security/Stability will seek secure and stable employment over, say, employment that is challenging and riskier. People tend to stay anchored in one area and their career will echo this in many ways. Schein’s Career Anchors are:
- Technical/Functional competence: This kind of person likes being good at something and will work to become a guru or expert. They like to be challenged and then use their skill to meet the challenge, doing the job properly and better than almost anyone else.
- General Managerial competence: Unlike technical/functional people, these people want to be managers (and not just to get more money, although this may be used as a metric of success). They like problem-solving and dealing with other people. They thrive on responsibility. To be successful, they also need emotional competence.
- Autonomy/Independence: These people have a primary need to work under their own rules and steam. They avoid standards and prefer to work alone.
- Security/Stability: Security-focused people seek stability and continuity as a primary factor of their lives. They avoid risks and are generally ‘lifers’ in their job.
- Entrepreneurial Creativity: These folks like to invent things, be creative and, most of all, to run their own businesses. They differ from those who seek autonomy in that they will share the workload. They find ownership very important. They easily get bored. Wealth, for them, is a sign of success.
- Service/Dedication to a cause: Service-oriented people are driven by how they can help other people more than using their talents (which may fall in other areas). They may well work in public services or in disciplines such as HR.
- Pure Challenge: People driven by challenge seek constant stimulation and difficult problems that they can tackle. Such people will change jobs when the current one gets boring and their career can be very varied.
Lifestyle: Those who are focused first on lifestyle look at their whole pattern of living. They do not so much balance work and life as integrate it. They may even take long periods off work in which to indulge in passions such as sailing or traveling.
In summary, investing time and effort to uncover, articulate and clarify our personal values has many important benefits. Values are important because:
- They guide us in making fulfilling choices
- They help us to know where we stand and clarify what we will and will not tolerate
- They enable us to act with integrity
- They help us prioritize and choose between conflicting priorities
- They point us to where we need to concentrate our personal improvement efforts
- They give us greater credibility when we act congruent with our values
- They help us understand what motivates and energizes us; what we are passionate about
- They strengthen our self-identity, self-confidence and sense of security
- They help us understand what motivates employees to make the career choices they do
- They help us shape an organization’s culture
- They help us see the extent to which our personal values are aligned with those of the team or organization
If you have clarified your core values tell us how you are using them and what affect they are having. If not, share your thoughts about clarifying your values. What are the values of your organization and to what extent do they align with your own?
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Clemmer, J. (1995). Pathways to performance: a guide to transforming yourself, your team, and your organization. Macmillan Canada,.
Kohlberg, L. (1976). Moral stages and moralization: The cognitive-developmental approach. Moral development and behavior: Theory, research, and social issues, 31-53.
Kouzes, J. M., & Posner, B. Z. (2011). Credibility: How Leaders Gain and Lose It, Why People Demand It (J-B Leadership Challenge: Kouzes/Posner). Jossey-Bass.
Schein, E. H. (1990). Career anchors: Discovering your real values. University Associates San Diego, CA.
Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S. (2010). Developing Management Skills (8th Edition). Prentice Hall.
Whitworth, L., Kimsey-House, K., Kimsey-House, H., & Sandahl, P. (2007). Co-Active Coaching: New Skills for Coaching People Toward Success in Work and, Life. Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
Williams, D. S. Clarifying and Applying Personal Values: Priorities and Integrity. LeaderLetter.
Zeus, P., & Skiffington, S. (2001). The Complete Guide to Coaching at Work. McGraw-Hill Book Company Australia.