Identifying Values

Let us suppose that we were asked for one all purpose bit of advice for management, one truth that we were able to distill from the excellent company’s research. We might be tempted to reply, ‘Figure out your value system.’ Decide what your company stands for. Clarifying the value system and breathing life into it are the greatest contributions a leader can make.” Peters and Waterman, In Search of Excellence.

Many people have given little more than a passing thought to identifying the values that govern their personal behavior, and even fewer organizations have done so. Instead, they accept the values of others and let situations determine their values. In almost all cases in which values are not clearly defined, good decisions are more difficult to make. Without values, people are easily influenced and decisions are subject to frequent change or compromise. “Situational values” confuse people and create problems as well as complexity.

Successful leaders make important decisions based on a set of core values … doing the right things for the right reasons. Within an organization, personal values may differ. A leader will help everyone focus on a “common good” value that will engender a desire for cooperation and teamwork without invalidating those personal differences.

What are your values? Can you easily and specifically identify them? What about the people throughout your organization? Are they committed to the organizational values? Take time to clarify or review the values you hold as a leader. Focus on what is really important to you and ask yourself, “What are the beliefs that I value so strongly that I will not compromise?” Sometimes when crystallizing your values, it helps to identify and clarify those values that you respect in other leaders you hold in high regard. What values do their actions, habits, and life-style exemplify? Often the values you see and respect in others are indicators of what you hold as personal values. How do these values exhibit themselves in your business decisions and in your relationships with customers, employees, stockholders, suppliers, and your community?

The true test of commitment to values is whether or not those values are upheld during a crisis. What does your behavior, or the behavior of the people throughout your organization, express about your values? Will you compromise any of your values for expediency or will you champion values under pressure?

At one time in history, it was said that the Iroquois Indians made decisions only after they examined the effect of those decisions on seven generations. We have come a long way from that point of view. At one time we looked up to our leaders as heroes and role models. We held them up for our children and future generations to emulate. Today, it is becoming increasingly difficult to find someone worthy of recognition and role model status. We must change that for our own good and for the survival of a value-based society.

The future of our society rests on the ability of our leaders to articulate, exemplify, and operationalize personal and organizational values.


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