Regarding Values

When Values Create Tension

July 18th, 2023

I have written previously about the importance of values: both personal and organisational. Clarifying and prioritising values forms a key part of mch’s advanced leadership programmes such as its Source of Leadership. Their inclusion stems from the finding that clarity of values helps with decision making. The relevance to leadership becomes apparent if you subscribe to the following definition;

‘Leadership is about deciding what to do and then articulating the decision well to those who matter.’

Another key advocate of values is Brené Brown. In her book, Dare to Lead, she sets the challenge of not only identifying your values, but prioritising them, so that one value trumps all others. In my view, the importance of this exercise stems from the reality that life is messy. It’s uncertain, complex and often ambiguous. Consequently, situations can arise where upholding one value comes at the cost of not upholding another.

I’ve found prioritising my values a very difficult exercise: I started doing so in early 2021 and have yet to reach a consistent answer. Earlier this year, I was reminded of the exercise and why it’s important. In early March, I was practicing my usual routine of yoga, exercises and a walk every morning, together with running three to four times a week and cycling once a week. By the end of March, I could barely walk 200m. My balance, strength and suppleness had disappeared. My fine motor skills were compromised, such that I could barely write or type. I had constant pins and needles in my hands and feet, which made sleep difficult. Furthermore, I didn’t know why any of this was happening.

To cut a long story short, towards the end of April, I was sitting across the table from a couple neurologists at my local hospital. To try and diagnose the problem and thus (hopefully) develop a treatment plan, three tests were scheduled. The test with the longest wait could be done (quicker) privately, or through the publicly funded National Health Service (NHS). Done privately, the test would still be done in a public hospital and performed by a doctor who also worked for the NHS. Fortuitously, I had sufficient savings to afford a private test.

Cue a tension between two of my core values: health and equality. Going private was the obvious decision if I was to prioritise health. Being seen in weeks, rather than months would enable a quicker diagnosis, ending the uncertainty and allowing treatment to start sooner. However, if the specialist did not test me privately, it’s very unlikely that they would spend that time twiddling their thumbs. Instead, they would have more capacity for their NHS work. Thus, in my view, prioritising equality would mean choosing to wait along with most other patients. Given the limited number of specialists, it was hard not to conclude that accessing provision privately comes at the cost of increased waiting times for NHS patients.

In the end, I waited and was seen on the NHS. I was comfortable living my value of equality, at the expense of health, by waiting a couple of months, rather than a couple of weeks. However, would I have been comfortable if the wait had been four months, or six months, or a year? My best guess is that I would have prioritised my value of health if I’d had to wait too much longer. Health has not previously reached number one spot in Brené Brown’s prioritisation exercise. However, the experience has raised its importance. I’ve been guilty of taking it for granted: there’s nothing like realising how important something is, until it’s no longer there.

I hope you do not have to go through a similar experience to get clear on your values. Do you know your values though? Can you prioritise them? The following links can help identify your values:

The above link asks you to consider times when you were happiest, proudest and most fulfilled. It also features a list of common values that you may find helpful to select from.

This link allows you to take a free questionnaire designed to identify your values.

Having identified your values, I would encourage you to embark on Brene Brown’s challenge to identify your number one value. Considering scenarios that test one value against another is often an effective (albeit challenging) way to do so.

All the best with your journey.

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Aligning Organisational Values with Your Personal Ones

January 8th, 2021

In my adolescence and early adulthood, I developed a series of core values that I felt would stand me in good stead for life. They were as follows:

  • Service: Equipping myself for life, not just for my own benefit, but for the whole community.
  • Balance: Balancing work with life outside of work. Trying hard, without becoming a fanatic. Knowing when enough is enough.
  • Equality: Endeavouring to create equality of worth and opportunity and striving to ensure that these are not inhibited by any inequality of resources.
  • Fun/Positivity: Life’s too short to commit myself to careers or activities that I don’t enjoy.
  • Health: Emotional, mental, physical and societal health enable life to be lived to the full.
  • Integrity: Telling myself the truth. Am I really living my values if I proceed in this way?
  • Relationships: Relationships bring the most purpose to my life: very little of any true worth is done completely on my own, or impacts only me.
  • Quality: If something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well. If I live all my other values, this value should take care of itself.

When I founded mch in 2005, it seemed obvious to me that the company’s values should align with my personal ones. On its inception though, I chose only to declare publicly three of the above values as company values:

  1. Balance
  2. Integrity
  3. Quality

I took the view that these were the most relevant to my company and the values that clients would be most interested in. By 2008, my values-based approach to business gained sufficient attention that I was asked to write a short article for a regional enterprise network on how values can inform business. An edited extract of this article can be viewed below.

Fast forward to 2018 and, while my values remained constant, a considerable amount had changed in both my personal and professional life. A notable change was that I had started a relationship with someone who also led a company. A period of turmoil ensued as I felt that the way they were leading their business was in conflict with some of my personal values. In particular, my partner’s organisation was distributing resources in ways I found difficult to reconcile. I felt that their organisation was perpetuating the inequalities of opportunity that exist in society. Essentially, I found it very hard to separate the personal from the professional. Indeed, I began to appreciate that there really wasn’t a separation of my personal and professional values. Although I had only listed three professional/company values on my company’s website, the other five personal values had informed, and continued to inform, my professional practice.

In particular, I was reminded of just how much the value of equality had shaped my career choices. For example, my initial decision for mch to serve charitable organisations and social enterprises was, in part, driven by a desire to provide a level of support and expertise that such organisations wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford. My subsequent decision to selectively serve some private sector organisations was, in part, taken to cross-subsidise some of mch’s work with charities and assist society more broadly e.g. through enabling increased volunteering and charitable donations. Furthermore, a key motivator in taking on the role of Chief Executive of Rumbalara, the indigenous sporting and community development organisation in Australia, was to assist a community that had been deprived of equality of opportunity.

The experience with my partner also strengthened my view that so much of my own situation and success stemmed from an inequality of opportunity. The biggest contributors to my good fortune were nothing to do with anything I had done. Yes, I have worked hard throughout my career and have tried to make the most of opportunities. However, the greatest opportunities have arisen on account of being born in a country where I had access to free education and from being born into a loving and supportive family. My innate intelligence is nothing of my own doing either, and even my work ethic is likely to have been influenced by the cultural environments I have found myself in. The result is that from an early age, I have felt that I am already a winner in the lottery of life. Consequently, I have tried to find careers and adopt a lifestyle that utilises the skills I’ve been lucky enough to develop, to help others win too.

A key outcome of this experience has been to be more public about mch’s broader values and to use my business to promote them. For example, the value of equality informs the pricing of mch’s online courses and the appeal to support equality of opportunity in learning and development that features within them. I’ve also experienced the positive impact that can come from engaging with organisations with differing values. In addition to clarifying what’s really important, experiencing differing perspectives can help bring about positive changes in thinking and acting.

Original mch Values Article

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