Values: Ethics in Action

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Values are the beliefs that lie behind, support, and energize the things we do and the goals we try to achieve. We get values from being a member of a community, from having good models we love and respect, and from an open dialogue with these models about what is valuable.

Values are different from ethics and understanding this difference is important if we are to be successful in our efforts to influence people. Values are personal and experiential; influencing them takes more than scheduling another pep talk.

Ethics represent a code (standard, benchmark) for judging whether certain behaviors, ideas, and attitudes are right or wrong. Values, on the other hand, represent my personal sense of desirability toward certain behaviors, ideas, and attitudes. Ethics are fashioned from critical thinking and sacred tradition; values are fashioned by acting upon the implications of that thinking and tradition.

Values are treasured in the heart. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21, NASB). Values are personal. Ethical rules do not become values until they are written on the heart, until they have been absorbed and adopted actively.

A value is a step beyond a belief about something. Values are what happen when you confirm a belief through experience. To value something means you esteem it as superior and worthy.

I once built my own picnic table out of a super-hard wood (the name of which escapes me right now). This task turned out much more difficult than what I had anticipated. I first found dozens of picnic table designs on the Internet, chose the one I liked, purchased the wood, and started building the table. I soon discovered that the wood was so hard I had to drill every nail hole. By the time I was done, the table felt like someone had bolted it to the floor. I valued this table. Why? Because I had invested my experience into making it.

Ethical principles become values only when we invest our time and energy into acting upon them. If all they are is a list printed on a poster hanging on the office wall, they are not real values, just wishful thinking.

This is important for leaders, for one of the functions of leadership is to build a set of shared values that serve to guide the organization toward its goals. You must do more than talk about them. You have to provide opportunities to experience them through mentoring, coaching, empowerment, and modeling. If your sole means of instilling the values of your company is through its reward system and policies, you are not instilling values but only enforcing conformity. You may be satisfied with this, but when people only comply with ethical rules and don’t incorporate them as personal values, they tend to produce minimal compliance. Great organizations go beyond this and inspire commitment; their people have bought into these ethical principles and transformed them into values.

For more information on how to identify your organizaiton’s core values, contact me at DrGregWaddell@LeadStrategic.com. Please share your experiences with organizational values in the comments section below.

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