Understanding the Place of Values

GUEST CONTRIBUTOR:  TOMMY THOMPSON

Those in business are very attuned to discussions about the importance of mission and vision statements, even if they are unclear about the difference between the two. The discussion about values is more complicated, both because we don’t really understand what a value is, and we aren’t sure what place a discussion of values has in our business or our personal life.

A mistake many people make is in equating values with morals. While honesty might legitimately be a value, profitability might also be a value for some businesses. Or in personal terms, frugality may be as high a value as faith. Here is a brief list of a few typical values:

  •     Integrity
  •     Transparency
  •     Family
  •     Experiences
  •     Quality
  •     Financial freedom
  •     Faithfulness
  •     Loyalty
  •     Competition
  •     Excellence
  •     Comfort
  •     Peacefulness
  •     Blunt Honesty
  •     Humility
  •     Hard Work
  •     Self-sufficiency
  •     Independence
  •     Learning
  •     Quality Time
  •     Serving
  •     Innovation
  •     Creativity
  •     Healthiness
  •     Exercise
  •     Reputation
  •     Curiosity
  •     Purpose

Simply put, values are what really matter to us.

Two problems surface when it comes to values. The first occurs when we do not clearly define our values. When this is the case, we are susceptible to acting impulsively contrary to values that we hold highly. For instance, a person might choose to take a job in a tightly structured corporation because he did not clearly identify flexibility as an important value in his life. When we are crystal clear on our values, those values become the foundation of our actions. In fact, our values become a filter that opportunities run through, enabling us to make sure we align opportunities with our vision and mission. Our values can even act as a veto, when choices present themselves to us that violate who we are.

A second issue arises when we are unclear which values are most important. A person may value financial freedom, but not as highly as loyalty, and so she chooses to stay with a less lucrative job out of loyalty. For her, this is a good choice that reflects her values.

This reflects the fact that values are inevitably hierarchical. We may be able to list 20 values that we care about, but when push comes to shove, value #20 regularly falls victim to value #5, which is more important to us.

For example, if I value savings very highly, I may choose to forgo the great trip that I am considering, even though I also value amazing experiences. If on the other hand, I value experiences more highly than savings, I may be willing to dip into my savings when the amazing opportunity arises to travel abroad. Even if I do not have a carefully crafted list of my values in order, intuitively I know what is really important to me and act accordingly. Of course, life is not always that neat and tidy.

So where do we go from here. Here is an enlightening exercise:

  •     Brainstorm and list 15 values that stand out to you. Don’t worry about what is more important at this point.
  •     Cross off five from your list. You can do this by asking yourself the question, “If I had to decide between ______ and _______, which would I choose?” This doesn’t mean that number 15 is not a value, it is just not a high value.
  •     Now take your remaining 10 values and break them down to a top five and a bottom five.
  •     From here, take your top five and do your best to put them in an order.

Values form a foundation that defines us. When we go through the exercise of clearly defining our top values, we gain the power of conviction that creates confidence and strength.

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