Raising the Bar on Values


Who am I to tell you what should be important in your life? Most people retreat from telling others what their values should be. It’s a private, individual matter. There was a day, though, when people were more vocal, more directive, and even more prescriptive in challenging others toward a higher ideal and a more worthy set of values.

These were leaders who were bold enough to contemplate a person’s potential (especially young people), their life context, and society’s greater needs. These people performed a cultural calculus that challenged people to grow and society to be strong. Who were these leaders? They were teachers, pastors, doctors, business owners, and next-door neighbors. In short, most adults played an active role in helping one another, their society, maintain a high standard and teach that standard to the next generation.

Things are different today. In the postmodern age, the prevailing value in society is “anything goes,” and “if it works for you…”

If there is a standard to pursue, a prevailing societal value, it seems to be “there are no values that we should call others to.”

All of this grates on me. Instead of shrugging my shoulders to say, “Whatever…,” I’m more likely to consider what should be and what could be. I’ve learned the hard way, though, that it helps to have a relationship with others when challenging them to something higher. (Asking unknown teenagers in a fast food restaurant who are using foul language to tone it down usually results in being mocked.) Relationship sits on a foundation of trust. That trust can be leveraged when asking someone to critically examine their life. If there is no trust or relationship, such a challenge is wasted, or perhaps even dangerous.

Why should I, and you, challenge others’ values? Would I be serving another, a leader or potential leader, if I did not question their devotion to selfish or destructive values? No. I would only be serving my sense of being comfortable (by avoiding potential conflict).

On the other hand, it also does not serve that person if I go so far as to prescribe their values. “Henceforth, you will value …!” That doesn’t work. Values must be “owned” through self-generation; they cannot be forced on others. The self-generation of values comes from three sources: 1) Exposure to role models, 2) Hard experience, and 3) Being challenged by others.

Our role as leaders of leaders is to challenge others by helping them clarify their values and to challenge them to a higher ideal of values that serve others.

Dr. Scott Yorkovich is a leadership coach and consultant. He works with individuals, small and medium organizations, and ministries. Contact him at ScottYorkovich[at]LeadStrategic.com with your questions.

Photo “rust abstract” by Jonathan cohen. Available at Flickr.com.

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