Setting the foundation of personal values

24.11.2016 |

Episode #8 of the course How to be a more mindful leader by The Plato Project


Effective leadership so often comes down to authenticity and integrity, to defining and expressing values, and to letting those values shape decision-making. In other words, being the sort of person who is self-aware and emotionally intelligent.

An authentic leader adopts a clear set of personal values to guide behavior and choices—values that are not vague assertions of “this is what I believe in,” but unambiguous things of substance that are documented clearly and used daily in decisions. These values are not to be confused with personal traits that are often demonstrated as automatically as breathing. Personal values need to be explicitly referred to in order to guide decision-making; they are consciously called upon, not automatic.

Getting this sort of clarity is not achieved by directly asking “What do I value?” Rather, values are revealed by how a person lives—in the moments that are great, as well as the moments that are painful. These moments bring a person’s set of values to the fore. The process of developing values is really a process of distilling what mattered in these moments.

Organizational values should be similarly unambiguous and central in guiding decisions. They need to be deeply embedded in an organization’s psyche because they matter. They matter because when decisions need to be made with insufficient data or when action needs to be taken in challenging situations, it is the values that will be drawn upon.

When either of these occasions happen, the values that emerge are the actual lived values of the organization. A great organization will have lived values that are identical to the espoused values. And a great leader will ensure this happens through authentic leadership.

Values-based decision-making needs to be embedded in an organization’s DNA. The simplest way to embed values is to ensure that the values are cascaded through an organization’s performance management system. By having employees align their activities with the values of the organization, the values become a part of the day-to-day. By ensuring goals are aligned with values, staff are themselves able to respond to ambiguity with a clearer idea of what decisions would be best.

Values-based goal-setting allows for decentralized decision-making that is nevertheless consistent with “true north” for an organization. A popular alternative is to set SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant, and timely) goals. While useful in setting goals that, if delivered, will achieve a broader objective, SMART goals can become the antithesis of values-based goals.

SMART goals assume a static environment that can be defined and asks that goals be implemented over a nominated period of time. They are unhelpful in uncertain times and in roles where flexibility is necessary. Where flexibility is required, SMART goals become at best irrelevant and at worst an obstacle. Values-based goal-setting works better in a fluid environment where change is constant.

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” — Plato


Recommended book

“Leaders Eat Last” by Simon Sinek


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