If Your Values are “Negotiable,” I Have Bad News

One of the many reasons I love teaching is I realize that until I can explain something clearly to a bright group of people, I really don’t understand it as well as I think I do. Also, I love the questions students ask because they force me to really make things clear to them and myself.

A few weeks ago while I was discussing the critical importance of SELF REFLECTION and of taking the time to clearly understand your VALUES, a student asked: But how do you know what your VALUES are?

After taking some time to reflect, I realized that this was not only a great question, but it may be at the core of one of the major issues with which we are struggling as a country. Here’s what I mean:

I think there is a big difference between VALUES and PREFERENCES. I may have a preference for people not swearing and using four-letter words in the office (or anywhere, for that matter), but if they do, I don’t think they would be immediately fired. Values are very different. As I explained to the student, I believe values are non-negotiable and are never compromised. If they are negotiable or compromised, how can you claim that they are values? Also, if the values only apply to certain people in certain situations, how can you explain them to the entire organization?

You may be thinking this seems obvious, but look at what is occurring all around us. You have to look no further than the recent Alabama senate race. I read several statements from people who believed that one of the candidates was guilty of sexual harassment. Yet, they still voted for him because they felt the Republicans could not afford to lose the Alabama Senate seat. Really!? I can understand if they didn’t believe the person was guilty of sexual harassment, but to BELIEVE the person was guilty but still rationalize to yourself that he should be elected anyway??

If we say that sexual harassment is wrong and will not be tolerated, why would there be an exception for anyone? Even for someone who is an exceptional performer or senior officer? Are we saying that sexual harassment is generally wrong, but it is okay if you are consistently 130% to plan or the CEO of the company or a candidate for Senate in a tight race? Unfortunately, for some people their stated values are negotiable and can be compromised, and that is a very slippery slope to go down.

One of the reasons I try to get students and executives alike to slow down and take the time to self reflect is to enable them to really determine what their values are and apply them consistently.

Okay, so as a life-long optimist, here’s my request: Turn off your smartphones and social media, get someplace quiet by yourself or with someone whose values and sense of purpose you admire, and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What are my values? (are they non-negotiable and will not be compromised?)
  • What is my purpose?
  • What do I stand for?
  • What really matters?

Write your answers down if possible and review them from time to time. Taking the time to address these questions will position you well in your life and personal leadership journey.

I truly believe if more people answered these questions, it would make our community, our country, and our world a better place!!!

I am always interested in your thoughts and feedback!
Have a great rest of the week!


Featured photo by Himesh Kumar Behera on Unsplash

One comment

  • A few years ago the then Commandant of the Marine Corps invited 20 C-Level Executives who were former Marines to help evaluate the USMC Leadership process the Corps was developing.
    The purpose of our trip, organized by the Center for Ethics and Corporate Responsibility, was to learn about the Marines’ values-based training strategy. As participants in that group, we were asked to help evaluate how the Marines’ foundational values of “Honor, Courage and Commitment” are integrated into nearly every aspect of basic training — from the classroom to carefully scripted briefings during breaks in rigorous physical exercises in the field.
    1) A Legacy of Values
    Employees want to be a part of something bigger than themselves. The Marines use their history to connect recruits and veterans with a long legacy of proud, honorable service to the nation and to fellow Marines. In fact, values-based leadership is simply reinforcing what the Marines have been practicing, training and enforcing since the birth of the Corps in 1775.
    The following questions may help your organization become more intentional about managing by values: What are the founding principles and values of your organization? What do they mean to current employees? How have they changed? In what ways can you create shared meaning and pride in your organization for employees?

    2) Leadership Processes from the Top
    The original Commandant’s order to create the Marines’ Values Based Program came from General Charles C. Krulak. This order codified the core values of “Honor, Courage and Commitment,” and spelled out the management processes for integrating values throughout the corps. The original process is broken down into three steps:
    Initial entry training — every Marine is formally instructed on the core values as soon as they enter the service
    Reinforcement education — a comprehensive listing of values education during advanced training courses
    Sustainment education — the directive that the core values need to be demonstrated in the daily course of events by all leaders
    The most effective values-based management programs in the private sector also have an enterprise-wide process of training, education and reinforcement. The key, however, is to have a CEO — like the Commandant — who is the standard bearer for your organization’s values, modeling the behavior expected of others.
    3) Remembering, Retelling and Reliving Your Values
    Dr. Walter Fluker, renowned ethicist and author, says that storytelling is one of the principle roles leaders must play to advance values based management. He advises executives to remember, retell, and relive stories about the organization’s character and values to create a shared consciousness and commitment by employees.
    What stories do you need to remember, retell, and relive within your organization?

    4) Values Management as a Force Multiplier
    The military was the first to develop the idea of a force multiplier, an attribute that significantly increases the effectiveness of a group. The success of the troops can be boiled down to understanding that one plus one equals much more than two and, at the same time, the chain is only as strong as the weakest link.

    Examples of companies where values-based leadership is a force multiplier can be found in Fortune‘s annual list of Best Places to Work. The companies selected for the list excel in building trust in leadership that expands, or multiplies, to trust between co-workers. This creates a more supportive and productive work environment, and produces exceptional business results.

    Liked by 1 person

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