Let’s be honest, sometimes the word “values” gets used as a weapon. We sometimes even use the concept of Values to intentionally create division. We make a claim of having “values,” when we are really claiming that we have “the right values,” resulting in values being used as a way of determining who is with us and who is against us. But in our Values Based Leadership work with folks from all walks of life, we find that understanding our own core values and recognizing the values of others can actually serve to build relationships, rather than destroy them.
We have been asked whether there is a specific set of values we are looking to promote in our work. In other words, do we lay claim to a “right” set of values? Are we aligned with a particular perspective – religious or political? While InnerWill has identified our own organizational values as Hope, Courage, Compassion, and Significance, we also recognize that every organization has its own unique set of values that make it function at its best.
Similarly, we believe each person has a unique set of core values. These are the values that make us who we are. A unique and authentic expression that only exists in us. And understanding these values is critical for building self-awareness, the cornerstone to emotional intelligence.
But what happens when our own values conflict with the values of those around us?
Many researchers have been studying the political divide we are experiencing in the US, trying to diagnose its root. Some have pointed to a difference in underlying values.
A recent Values and Lifestyle Survey conducted by CEB/Gartner identified some of those differences. The survey asked participants to rank a large set of values from most important to least important. The values ranking of individuals who identified as politically conservative were compared with those of liberal voters, and a number of differences emerged. For example, those who identified as liberal collectively ranked Equality as a top value, while those who identified as conservative ranked Equality 18th on their list of values. Duty was among the top values for conservatives, while liberals ranked it 53rd on their list of values. Interestingly, though, there was a set of values that consistently ranked in the top 20 for both groups – values like Authenticity, Conscience, and Wisdom.
Two things stand out for me in these results:
- First, even among these seemingly opposite groups, there is a set of shared values, and the opportunity to see what brings us together in those values of Authenticity, Conscience, and Wisdom.
- Second, and perhaps more importantly, they highlight the opportunity to see each other for the positive aspects of what we value. Though I may value Equality highly, I can find appreciation and respect for the value of Duty, and for those who hold it as one of their core values. Thanks to those who value Duty, my freedoms are defended against attack.
Appreciating other people’s core values is not necessarily easy. The more we understand the importance of our own values, the harder it can be to accept a differing view. And when there is a need for shared decision-making across differing values, skilled negotiating and creativity is required to find win-win solutions.
I face this challenge regularly in my leadership in the workplace and in the community, and have found useful guidance in this quote from Jonathan Haidt, author and professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business.
“To live virtuously as individuals and societies, we must understand how our minds are built. We must find ways to overcome our natural self-righteousness. We must respect and even learn from those whose morality differs from our own.”
When I think deeply about this, I can’t help but get excited about the possibilities! What could it look like if we were able to learn how to leverage the unique strengths – and the unique set of values – that each of us hold?