Part 2 of a 2 Part Series

If we don’t take the time to define the things that we hope will define us, we’re always going to feel as if we aren’t living up to the person we want to be.

After all, how do you give yourself credit for hitting a target you’ve never actually identified?

General Patton encouraged us to “accept the challenge, so that you may feel the exhilaration of victory.”

However, unless we define at least some version of “victory”, the exhilaration and fulfillment that propels us towards our next goal never materializes.

Taking the time to define the values you wish to embody in your life, and identifying activities you can engage in each day, is establishing what a victory actually means.

Misunderstanding Values

It’s important to creating that same opportunity for your organization. After all, people’s behavior is driven by their values. And conflict within your organization often comes as a result of a misalignment and/or a misunderstanding of values.

The value-based leadership work of James Kouzes and Barry Posner demonstrates that an individual’s commitment to their organization is highest when they have a clear understanding of both the organization’s values and their own personal values.

What’s interesting is what leads to the lowest level of commitment: it is not, as you might suspect, when an individual lacks clarity on both the organization’s values and their personal values.

The lowest level of commitment to an organization comes when an individual has a clear understanding of the organization’s values, but not of their own.

Core Values

As such, ask your managers to facilitate this process for employees at every level of the organization.

In addition, bring the senior leadership of the organization together and create a list of 12-15 “core values” you hope your organization embodies each day.

For instance, I worked with one organization to create this list:

  • Approachability/Openness
  • Credibility/Respect
  • Equity/Fairness
  • Transparency/Accountability
  • Fiscal Responsibility
  • Advocacy/Representation of Constituents
  • Service Provision
  • Fun
  • Professionalism
  • Personal Development
  • Professional Development
  • Community Service/Outreach

Defining Values

Then, undertake the following exercise:

  • Give each of your organization’s senior leaders the list of values and ask them to rank them in the order they feel they should be prioritized by your organization.
  • Bring the group together and dedicate 90 minutes to 2 hours to reach a “consensus ranking” of the values, stressing that consensus means creating something everyone can support, rather than something everyone fully agrees with.
  • Ask managers at every level of the organization to organize the same activity for groups of their employees (it works best in groups of about 12).  Once they create their “consensus ranking”, reveal the consensus ranking created by the organization’s senior leaders, and have your managers facilitate a discussion on the employees’ feelings about how their answers align or differ with the senior leadership, why that might be, what impact it might have, and what can/should be done about it.
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In reality, the final consensus ranking isn’t what’s important in this exercise – rather it’s the increased understanding generated by the discussion itself.

Value Agreement

Generally, the discussion will demand leaders not only identify which values are most important to them, but explain exactly what they believe each value means.  You will often hear comments like, “Oh! Okay, if you define ‘accountability’ like that, I agree with you.  I was going on the idea that accountability meant…”

The exercise ensures your organization agrees on common definitions for the values that will fundamentally define your organization.

In addition, you will find that the discussion surfaces different visions for the organization, and demands that the team discuss those differences.  It’s not uncommon to hear statements like, “I’ve always believed our fundamental purpose is to…” or “When it all comes down to it, I think our job is…”

The earlier these previously unidentified differences are surfaced, the better for your organization.

What Does Leadership Mean?

If you have ideas that you feel like sharing that might be helpful to readers, share them in the comments section below. Thanks!

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Drew Dudley
Drew is the Founder and Chief Catalyst of Nuance Leadership, Inc., and the former Coordinator of one of Canada’s largest leadership development programs at the University of Toronto.