Which Values Are Worth the Most?
Braden Ross, President and Founder of Clear Path Leadership
I would assume that we’re all familiar with values. We know most organizations have them, and we may even have some idea of what our personal values are. However, it’s easy to forget that not all values are created equally, and if we aren’t careful, we may assume that we value something when our beliefs and actions reflect a different reality.
The Oxford dictionary defines values as “a person's principles or standards of behavior; one's judgment of what is important in life.” In other words, our values impact the way we see the world, the way we treat others, and the relative importance we see in different qualities or traits.
I also like how Patrick Lencioni describes values in his book, “The Advantage.” In short, Lencioni writes that, generally speaking, there are three different types of values:
- Aspirational values. These are the values that you hope to have one day, but don’t embody yet.
- Permission to play values. These are the values that you have to have in order to remain in business or be taken seriously by others.
- Core values. These are your most deeply held beliefs and principles. You won’t deviate from them, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Let’s take a second look at these qualities, and I’ll use some examples from my own life to help each category make more sense:
- Aspirational values. I like the idea of being a regular reader, but recently my reading has been sporadic and seasonal. Although I value learning, it’s more of an aspirational value because I’m not living it out to the degree that I would like.
- Permission to play values. As a professional coach, I must care deeply about helping my clients grow, develop, and perform better than before they started working with me. If I was content to see clients stagnate or remain stuck, I wouldn’t be in business.
- Core values. I don’t say this to brag because there’s plenty I don’t do well, but I care deeply about acting with integrity and authenticity.
The most important thing to remember about core values is that for something to truly be a core value, you must be willing to sacrifice in order to uphold it. I love the story about former Southwest CEO Herb Kelleher, who received a letter from an angry customer one day. This woman was upset that Southwest didn’t have assigned seating, and had grown tired of hearing her flight attendants tell jokes during pre-flight safety briefings. It’s worth mentioning that this passenger wasn’t a first-time complainer - she had a reputation in the company of always having issues.
Kelleher wrote a personal response to this woman that will surprise most: “We will miss you.”
While it may seem flippant at first glance, it reflects Southwest’s allegiance and dedication to their core values. As a company, Southwest knows who they are and what they value, and they understand that living out these values may not always be a popular decision - but they don’t let the opinions of a few deter them from pursuing their purpose and their mission.
So what about you? Take some time to write out your values. After you have a list of 10-12, sort them into the three categories we discussed above. Write an “A” next to values that are more aspirational in nature and a “P” by the ones that fit the definition of permission-to-play values. Pay special attention to any values that seem to be your core values - these are the principles that are usually unchanging and will drive your behavior and your mission for most of your life. These are the values that make you who you are, and they represent your greatest opportunities to have an impact on your team, your organization, and our community.