The Values Question
How does this decision line up with your values?
On the surface, it was a simple decision. Hope is a highly competent leader and this new job offer would be a step up in salary and prestige.
Should she take the job or not?
Career choices remain one of the most difficult decisions we process. 100 years ago, these were not choices that most people had to make. Jobs and careers were determined by your finances, your family and your location. 50 years ago, a carreer choice was a once and done decision. Today we live in a world that offers options. Layoffs force changes frequently. Navigating career choices is a complex activity involving many stakeholders.
Hope loves her family. She also loved her job. The offer that came was appealing and she was struggling to decide. Not sure of how to make decision, Hope reached out to her coach. Hope’s coach asked her One Question. “How does this decision line up with your values?”
Unsurprisingly, most of us operate with an unwritten set of values. For most, Hope’s One Question would be difficult to answer. Not because we don’t have values, but because we have not identified them and prioritized them. For example, would you rather be known as honest or friendly? Is being a provider more important than being present? On the surface, these are simple questions, but the answers often force us down very different pathways. We may value both, but at different degrees.
If there is a required corporate jargon, then a Values Statement is a prerequisite for getting into the club. Company offsites take executives through rich experiences trying to identify their values that will help them make decisions as an organization. Don’t get me wrong, I am a big believer in Values Statements. I do find that most of the values statements I have seen don’t reflect the reality of how decisions are made at the organizational level. Sure, the CEO may be trying to reflect these values, but the understanding and actionizing (is that a word?) of these values is clouded in mystery for the average person.
Phillip Joret, a professional coach in Quebec says this about values.
“We do not chose our values. Our values are simply revealed.”
What my friend is saying is simple. Take for example community or relationships. Most churches would say that they value community. But how much time is spent in the most important gatherings at churches on community? Early in my foreign career, I worked in a majority Muslim country. Many of the people who believed like me gathered once a month on Sunday nights. Here’s my experience. No one enjoyed the service. The adult part of the teaching and music was painful. Boring. Laborious. Tedious. Why did people come? Because there was a good children’s program and afterwards, the chance to talk with friends. The afterwards would last longer than the formal service. The value was our kids and our friends. Values are revealed by behaviors. We suffered through a bad music and teaching time to get to the time with friends.
What made Hope’s One Question different?
“I had done the work of identifying my values and prioritizing them,” Hope told me. Once the work of revealing her values was done, the values question turned a difficult decision into an easy one. Considering where her kids were in life, and where family was in her values hierarchy, Hope turned down the job. Not because she doesn’t value hard work, or providing, or personal growth or living her potential. Hope understood not only her values, but she also how to prioritize them.
The Value decision tree is a simple idea. There are numerous exercises you can find to reveal your values. A little side bar here. Beware of the difference between aspirational values and actual values. Aspirational values are the kinds of things that go up on walls but are impossible to assess or actionalize. The question that should be simple to follow up with a value is “what does that mean?” If you can’t make a decision based on that value, it probably isn’t a value.
To be useful, you must be able to make decisions on these values. Once a person knows you, they too should be able to know what you will say or decide in any given situation. A leader’s most powerful tool is when those he or she leads can make accurate assessments of how the leader will lead. Even more powerful is when the organization’s values are so clear, the rank and file person can know, without asking, how the organization will respond based on these values. If you can’t, there remains work to be done on your values tree.
(Need a place to begin identifying your values? The work of Brene Brown is a place to start. I have found this worksheet useful https://brenebrown.com/resources/dare-to-lead-list-of-values/)
But identifying values is only the first step. From here, a values decision tree must have 2 stages. The first three to five are black and white, yes or no values. Get a yes and continue. Get a no, and stopping is required. What would this look like? After the first three yes or no values, chose 5-8 more that are “go slow” response. These are not clear green lights, but more like yellow lights. Proceed with caution. I do not recommend having a total of more than 8.
If your values don’t have the power to guide your decisions, they aren’t truly values.
So how do you make decisions? Those are your true values. Begin by asking yourself… what would I never negotiable on?