- October 18, 2018
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What do I value? Let me see… A beautiful pair of shoes, comfortable seats on a plane, fast & uninterrupted broadband, Netflix, my comfy mattress, a hairdresser who gets me & my hair, when I say ‘no onions’ I mean it. The list goes on. On a more serious note…..
Values – a word bandied around a lot – be it in a glossy corporate website or brochure, or via idyllic images in sepia through TV advertisements of frolicking children and smiling communities. It’s hard to not be cynical when consistently confronted with talk of the ‘good ol days’ and how values are ‘old-fashioned’. But do we need to go back that far to have real values?
So here’s the thing – all of us have values and they are one of the most ever current and consistent things that you have within you.
Values are essentially what drive us – our thoughts, words and actions. They are our guiding principles in they way we live and work. Furthermore, they are also the benchmarks used to see if our life, at work and at home, is how and where we want it to be.
Goals vs Values
In coaching, we talk a lot about setting goals. In fact, one of the most enduring coaching models is the GROW model: Goals-Reality-Options-Way Forward. Having goals is a fantastic way to get us from A to B, to create the change that is needed, with thought and care. Many set them as ways to drive them forward.
‘I want to be a partner by the age of 35’
‘When I earn enough money, I will buy a house in that area’
‘I want to lose 15kgs’
And attaining these goals can bring happiness and a strong sense of achievement. BUT, the thing about goals is that once they have been achieved and the initial euphoria has dissipated, one is often left with disappointment and a sense of emptiness. For others, those goals might not be achieved for a variety of realistic reasons, and this can led to some devastating sadness if not careful. Sometimes, goals are no longer relevant especially if they were set at a time when one had a very different set of circumstances or mindset.
There is nothing wrong with setting goals but one has to keep them realistic and more importantly, there is the ‘Why’. Here’s where values come in.
Why is it important for you to be partner by the age of 35? If you say it’s because you value professional achievement – is this the only way to show that you value professional achievement? Surely good work is sufficient? What other ways can you show professional achievement? If you don’t get partnership till after 35, does that mean you have not achieved professionally? What happens when you make partnership, do you not need to achieve professionally thereafter? You’re just going to kick back and cruise while others bust their chops?
You want to lose 15kgs. Why? To look good? Why? Because you want to find a life partner? How will losing weight help you find a life partner? I’ll look more attractive. How will looking more attractive help you find a new partner? They’ll finally look at you rather than some fat person? Why will losing 15kgs transform you into another person? Wanting to lose weight as a goal isn’t in itself a bad thing – I could stand to lose some myself. However, if one imagines that sudden weight lose will bring about a complete 180 change, you’ll have another thing coming. In these cases, it’s usually more about self-esteem and confidence. Perhaps valuing self-worth has a greater impact on weight loss and self-image compared to an arbitrary 15kgs weight loss.
Being clear on your values will help guide your decision-making. In the first case, this client was killing herself trying to achieve partnership by 35 – not just physically but her relationships and her moral compass too – trampling without care on others to reach the top. In the second, he thought he’d have a personality transplant, all extroverted, funny and engaging with a 15kg weight loss. Not so much……
Values and the Moral High Ground
We know that our values and beliefs drive our thoughts and behaviours – serving as our guiding beacon. I have clients who believe so strongly in their own and company’s values that no decision is made without these in mind. A noble aspiration and practice.
Yet, I highlight this with a note of caution. Can this laser focus misguide and mislead you to pull the moral high ground and possibly end up with much blinkered judgment and even worse, unhealthy behaviours?
If one were to assume that one only held true to one or two values then that might be an inevitable result. I have a client who is zealous about his company values but to the point where he is actively doing his business a disservice. When we discussed this in coaching, the refrain was that he was making decisions based on his values. That is a fact and one to be applauded. However, when we talked about ALL his values not just the one, he started to understand that this focus on the one value made him run a very blinkered and almost dysfunctional business. He also realized that his overuse of that value compared with the others just came across as sanctimonious and almost unstable to his team and shareholders.
Another client believes in and values hard work. A worthy value. However, it is to the point where anyone who does not work exactly the same way that she does, nor the same hours that she does, is a slacker. She is adamant that others are idle, not contributing and useless, riding on her coattails. As coaching goes, we are looking at other values that are important to her, and as well, trying to see if hard work in itself is the target, or is it the outcome that is important.
In both cases, there aren’t right or wrong answers. It’s just a case of being emotionally intelligent and self-aware enough to know when having values is a positive driver and when it is being used in overdrive, as an excuse for negative thinking and behaviours.
Values are Important because, amongst other things, they
- Help you see who you are and knowing what they are will help with self-respect
- Provide clarity on what you want
- Aid in decision making
- Contribute to how you live your life and how your enjoy it
- Keep you focused, motivated, determined and on the right track for you
Hopefully this brief introduction into the subject will have stirred up some thinking with you. Having some clarity on what your values are will explain a lot to you – why you think the things that you think and how you go about your life. Do you use those values to guide you to where you want to go? If not, why not? What is holding you back? If yes, how do they guide you and keep you on track? How do they work with your interim goals? Do you values align with those at work, are they part of the reason you are thriving or not enjoying work? How do they fit with your relationships – at home and at work?
So many questions to ask – it’s like opening Pandora’s Box and this is just the beginning. If you would like to have a look at some values cards to narrow down your thoughts, let me know. You know where to find me!!
Karen Kwong is a highly experienced executive & business coach who has worked with start-ups and social enterprises through to large established corporates (including FTSE100 companies) across a number of industries including financial services, engineering, retail and media & communications. She also advises boards on their dynamics. Added to this, she spent almost twenty years working at a senior level in fund management. She also has a Masters in Organisational Psychology. For more please see here or contact her at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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