Everyone has a set of values. It is unlikely that any two people hold identical values, but as a society, we tend to group our values and then to associate more with those who share our values. Whether these are religious, societal, ethical, political, or any other set of values, we all have them. Hopefully we hold altruistic values and seek to do good for others. Some others hold very low values and some to the point of being pathologically bad. They are still the values that define them.
In Sustained Leadership WBS I define values in this way:
WBS Dictionary: Your values reflect what is in your heart. Too often people are not honest with themselves and very often this is not by any conscious intent. They have simply fallen into a comfort zone from which they have not considered extracting themselves. Your values govern your actions, so a hard look at your actions and reactions will provide a broad window on your values. When a person exhibits sustained leadership values it can be seen that these values are centered outside of their selfish interests. They are focused on others, not on themselves. They reflect no self-serving or self-deceiving (18.104.22.168) traits. They are honest (1.1) with themselves and others. And they incorporate those values into their mission (See 4.2.1.)
Exploring Your Values
When you attend the Sustained Leadership class, you participate in an exercise to help you see and understand your values. To start, write at the top of a page “These Things I Believe.”
Below that, make a list of the things that you think you believe. I say “think you believe” because no one lies to us better than we lie to ourselves. For now, just make a list. Target ten items. Nothing magic about the number; you might only have three or six or really any number. Some have not stopped until they had over 100 items on their list. For now – just list no more than ten.
To prompt you, try a few “I am” statements. Are you a good writer? A good leader? A good parent? Then think about how others treat you. Try a few “Other people think I am” statements. Friendly? A good shoulder to cry on? What do you consider funny? Then consider society as a whole. What do you believe about world hunger? Abortion? Religion? Discrimination? Wealth? What opinions have you expressed to friends or on social media?
The goal is not to create a checklist, but to hold a personal brainstorming session that focuses you on those things that you think you believe.
Ask Why, Three Times
Review your list and pick just two or three about which you feel a particularly strong sentiment. For each of those, ask yourself “why?” Write down your answer. Look at what you have written, and ask “why” again. Continue writing. For a third time, looking at what you have written, ask yourself “why?” There is something magical about asking a question three times. Even in negotiations, it just seems to work. It is the third layer of “why” that reveals some very deep truths. What truths are you discovering?
“The person who says he knows what he thinks but cannot express it usually does not know what he thinks.” — Mortimer Adler (American philosopher, educator, and author.)
Study your reasons, rationales, and justifications. Has your thinking made you feel stronger about your beliefs or less certain? You might discover that you really cannot articulate a good reason for a belief. You should question whether you truly hold that belief or if it is simply a comfort to you.
From this exercise, you will begin to frame more carefully what you believe and why you believe it. These are your values. Some of them might surprise you. You might discover some hidden biases or prejudices in your beliefs. Hopefully you will use this to open your eyes to your values in more concrete terms. Understanding your values at this level will allow you to apply them more effectively and consistently. Your decision-making process will be quicker and you will have more confidence in your decisions.
Do You Still Like Yourself?
You might not like what you see. The sustained leader will be able to state their beliefs and explain why they hold those beliefs. They will assess what this says about their values and further assess whether those are values they truly wish to hold. These sessions can be very troubling. You might conclude you are a terrible person. Don’t do that. Every day you make choices about your beliefs and you can work to change them if you believe you should. The starting point is, however, to do the assessment. Then you know your starting point for assessing your values as you proceed further in your leadership journey.
This material is derived from the book Sustained Leadership WBS and is found in section 1.2.1, Values. Get Sustained Leadership WBS here.
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Tom Reid is a lawyer, author, mentor, speaker, and all around good guy to know. He has lived all over the country due to his career as a government contracting lawyer and now lives wherever the notion strikes him. Find him on Twitter @_TomGReid