Living Into Our Values at Work and at Home

At the end of January, Brené Brown released an episode of her podcast, along with a worksheet, called Living into Our Values. She challenged her listeners to complete the exercise. Step one was to circle up to fifteen values from a list of nearly 100 on a page. From there you had to narrow it down to the two most important ones. In her own words, “I can’t think of a more powerful way to double down on ourselves than getting clear on our values and the behaviors that support them—and the s&*% that gets in the way.” She also claimed that of all the work that she does with leaders and teams, this exercise was the biggest game changer.

I was intrigued enough to download the worksheet and start circling words. At first it was easy. Achievement, adaptability, and adventure all got circled. Then faith, friendship and inclusion. But as I approached 15, tough choices emerged and a lot of crossing off/re-selecting began. At the end of the list was a box in case something was missing that you felt was important. At first, I left it blank.

Then you had to pick two. The questions she asked you to reflect on were: Does this define me? Is this who I am at my best? Is this a filter that I use to make hard decisions? The first word was easy: Achievement. None of the second words really jumped out as a solid #2. I realized then that I needed to refine “making a difference” – something that I had circled. There are so many different ways to make a difference that I didn’t feel it was specific enough to what I *really* valued. I landed with “solving big problems facing humanity”. I pressure tested the two values with several people I trust, including colleagues and members of the Stevens family. Universally, everyone laughed and said, yes, for better or worse, those are absolutely your values.

I’ve since had Mr. Stevens and one Stevens teenager complete the exercise and we are bringing it as a voluntary workshop to Team WeSpire. Getting my own values clearer, and understanding the values of those around me, is proving very helpful. I can see now where someone not valuing achievement, as much as I do, is like fingernails on a chalkboard. But foisting my achievement value onto them isn’t a recipe for successful parenting, marriage, or management. People need to chart a life and career path that leverages their own values. In addition, when I know what someone values, but see behaviors that are outside their values, it also makes it easier to frame feedback. I see now why she called it a game changer.

Brown’s work on values stems from her “Dare to Lead” book. She notes that only ten percent of organizations have actually operationalized their values into teachable and observable behaviors that are used to train people and hold them accountable. And now I know why this work makes so much sense to the behavior scientist in me. WeSpire focuses on operationalizing behaviors that drive sustainability, social impact, wellbeing and inclusion, Brown’s work is similar to what we do, but focused on organizational and personal values. What we share is the understanding that all of the goals, strategies, values, and missions don’t matter if you can’t put them into specific behaviors that help, or hinder, progress.

My hypothesis is that the last two years have dramatically reshaped people’s values, perhaps your own values, in ways we are all just beginning to understand. I’ve started calling the Great Resignation “the Great Recalibration”. They have likely reshaped your organization’s values as well, but very few of us have had the bandwidth to really consider how until now. So as you kick off 2022, I would encourage you to reflect and sort out those top values for you, your family and if possible, your company. Then work to operationalize them personally and professionally, recognizing that ultimately, we do best when our behaviors live into our values each and every day.

Quote of the Week: “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”

Elvis Presley

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