In our regular contact with leaders we find a general awareness of the key role that values play in the lives and performance of both leaders and staff. We also find differences amongst leaders in relation to the role that our values play. In some cases the feeling is that a committed quest to establish values in the organisation has a detrimental impact on real life performance. This may well be the case where the role and nature of values are not fully understood.
Consider the following components of the real life role that values play:
- We should differentiate between professed values and believed values. Professed values means those standards of performance that we claim we believe in. In reality our performance will always default to that which we really believe in, especially when under pressure. We may for example state publicly that we believe in honesty as one of our values, but under pressure of real life we may default to being dishonest because we fear loss of revenue of social standing.
- Values have a crucial psychological component. At Leadership Platform we try to capture this component with the Law of Performance, which states: “It is impossible to perform above our believed values”. This means that psychologically we cannot perform above our real mental and emotional belief system. On occasion we are credited with achievements that are generated by the faith of others. The rule still applies: ‘We as individuals cannot perform above that which we believe to be possible’. If you want to test this law, then try to jump over a rope that is held by others. You will quickly find out at what height your negative belief system kicks in!
This component of believed values is a solid reason why we should be constantly committed to a regular habit of improving our minds, abilities and emotional and spiritual maturity. When the time of action comes, the time of preparation is over. We are the product of processes that keep us mentally, emotionally, spiritually and leadership fit.
It follows from point 2 that for us to embrace values that we are not quipped for some reason to believe in, that we need to be exposed to believable mental as well emotional processes that enable us to change our deep rooted negative attitude. Changing behaviour rarely happens suddenly. Our believed values are at the core of our behavioural models.
This is where good leadership kicks in – to be able to move people’s attitudes in a positive direction.
- Values have a reputational component that is sometimes missed. Our reputation for integrity is an invaluable asset. It is not easy to restore a damaged reputation. Good reputations are built around perceptions which others have of our commitment to believed universal values that is respected. We find it is especially damaging and difficult to repair reputational damage done when senior leaders fail to live up to their professed values that they require the staff to live by. It is also remarkable to find how people are readily prepared to forgive leaders of their values slip-ups (such as losing their cool under pressure) if the leaders concerned are honest in admitting them and show acceptable remorse! It is obviously better if the slip-ups do not occur in first place.
- Values have a key organisational and group unity component. It is almost impossible to evoke an effective and lasting sense of unity and passion in a group of people without core values. Believed values, both positive as well as negative values, become the real organisational language that tends to override the spoken language. It is all about perceptions of values. If we do not have a culture of honest interactive conversations in the organisation, then negative beliefs tend to grow and flourish.
- Our organisational values need to include an achievement or performance value of some kind. This is an important component about values. A sense of hypocrisy can easily be generated in an organisation when lip service is paid to values but the real value that the boss seeks after is achievement of operational objectives. Operational objectives are crucial for all stake holders and should be integrated with the universal values that the organisation seeks to follow. We are delighted to come across modern leaders that are passionate about integrating universal values such as honesty, accountability, respect, connectivity with achievement. On the other hand I once recall asking a senior executive of a large organisation about their values. He told me enthusiastically that they have a set of values. He could not recall them and had to find them for me. What was worrying is not just the fact that he did not know the values they believed in, but that he was proud of the fact that they had gone to the trouble of drawing up a set of values! He was driven by operational objectives, not by a sense of believed values. Box ticking when it comes to values will just not work.
- Values are mostly associated with moral and ethical standards. Some of us avoid a debate on acceptable values or standards of behaviour because of wariness of stepping on the toes of differing cultural, ethnic and religious beliefs. In most cases such a fear is unwarranted. Values or standards of behaviour such as honesty, accountability, self-improvement, achievement, respect for the dignity and potential of others etc. are universally acceptable and should not be the cause of contention if communicated properly.
- Values have a community component. The immense impact that organisational values can play in lifting the community at large should never be underestimated. In many instances, a sense of loyalty to organisational values is the major stabilising factor in the lives of thousands of employees, school learners, church members and even sport teams who come from disjointed and broken homes and communities. The atmosphere and moral stability of good organisations of all kinds are a tremendous boost to the moral fibre of our country and the world at large.
It is a modern tendency to be critical and cynical of large businesses, government departments and churches for example. Yet in many instances the values based standards that exist in these organisations are the major uplifting influence in the lives of many thousands of people.
Our believed values are the single most important driving force in our lives. It is the ultimate stupidity to think that believed values are not a key to our performance as leaders.
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