Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How Personal Values Help Us To Navigate Our Way Through Life

Gary Ryan defines personal values and uses examples to help illustrate what they are and how they are used. An activity is included to assist you in identifying your personal values.



This Podcast is also available for download from iTunes.

Michelle Hunt, author of Dream Makers (www.dreammakers.org) describes values as the rudder that we use to navigate our way through the turbulent waters of life. Without our values we have no rudder and simply go wherever the current takes us.

Usually our values become evident when something happens that truly upsets us. Our values are often the opposite to the things that deeply upset us. For example, if someone is telling me lies and I have discovered that I have been told lies, I have a physical reaction to that behaviour. My values of honesty and integrity have been challenged by the person lying to me which results in a strong reaction from me. Similarly, I have a strong work ethic and I struggle with people who seem lazy and then complain that nobody is helping them. In this example, my service value is being challenged.

Jerry Porras in his book Success Built to Last suggests that it doesn't really matter what your values are (unless they would cause deliberate harm to others), what really matters is that you are aware of what they are for you. This is critically important because without a deep understanding of your values you are at risk of behaving in ways that are not congruent with them.

If you are not sure what your values are, try the following activity. You will require a pen and four small pieces of paper.

1) Write what you think might be a core value of yours on each of the four pieces of paper. You can write single words or phrases - whatever works for you. What matters is that you understand what your values mean. It doesn't matter if no-one else understands what you write.

2) Life is challenging and sometimes we have to prioritise our values. Out of the four values that you have written down, which one would you set aside first. Please scrunch up the piece of paper with that value on it and throw it on the floor.

3) Life is even more challenging. Out of the three values that you are yet to set aside, which value would you set aside next? Once again, scrunch up the paper and drop it on the floor.

De-Brief
How did you feel when you had to select the first value to set aside? The second one? Your reactions will tell you something about whether or not what you wrote is more like a core value or not. A strong reaction to the activity more than likely indicates that what you wrote is more like a core value than not.

Now, let's go a step further. If you have discovered some core values, do you ever behave in ways that is far worse than scrunching up a piece of paper and throwing it on the floor? Maybe you had honesty and integrity as a value, yet you regularly talk and gossip behind people's backs, then pretend to be nice to them when they are around you.

Once we identify our core values we can use them in our day to day decision making. They help us to do the right thing at the right time. Sometimes our actions, when driven by our values are not popular. That is OK. There are times in our lives when we must take a stand no matter how futile the odds may seem to be. For example, someone may be getting bullied at work and we see it occur. What would our values guide us to do?

I recall as a young manager a service repair man who I had engaged to do a job for me provided me with a bill that seemed higher than it should have been. This contractor had done work for me before and I trusted him so I didn't follow up on my suspicions and paid the bill (which was against our protocols!). A week after the 'job' was completed he returned to my office for what I thought was a friendly visit. He handed me an envelope with several hundred dollars in it. He openly told me that he had over-charged my organisation for the work that he had performed and the money in the envelope was my share of the over-payment. If I agreed to continue to contract him and to approve his work at inflated rates, he would continue to give me envelopes filled with money.

While not enraged by his behaviour I was not far from that type of reaction. I literally threw the envelope back at him and immediately told him that I was reporting him to my boss and that he would never work for our organisation again. He too reacted strongly and threatened my physical well-being at which time I picked up the phone to dial our security personnel. He quickly left our premises, never to return.

I had not gone to work that day expecting such an event to unfold. I had nothing but my values to guide me with regard to how I reacted in the moment when he handed me the money. To this day I am glad that I had the courage to follow my values. At the time I was on a very low wage and three hundred dollars was a lot of money. But there simply wasn't a chance that I would accept it. In telling the story to my boss I also had to admit that I had not followed proper protocols when I had suspected the bill had been inflated in the first place. I was reminded of the reason why our protocols existed and promised to strictly follow them in the future, which I did.

Imagine if I was not clear about my values and I had accepted the money. Imagine the ripple effect over time. I suspect that I wouldn't be writing this blog on this topic, that is for sure!

In another example I recently witnessed some peers provide some feedback to their colleague. While highly skilled, this person was told that she put her own success ahead of the team's success. While difficult to hear, she thanked her peers for their honesty. She realised that what her peers had told her was true and she needed to improve in some areas, while maintaining her outstanding performance based on her technical skills. Her personal value of honesty allowed her to hear the feedback, accept it and then do something about it. Recently her peers have recognised her team first behaviours and her respect amongst her peers has sky-rocketed.

Values do conflict. They conflict on a personal level and they can conflict on an organisational level. I will write another blog about how you manage such situations. The most important issue, however, is to identify your values and to try to live them to the best of your ability. As you consciously use your values to guide your behaviour, you build your capacity to take effective action and are better able to navigate your way through the turbulent waters of life.

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