Aspirational value or guiding principle?

Defining your personal values can be fun, and there are plenty of exercises available to take. You get clarity on who you see yourself as being and what you hold dear. A personal value statement outlines what is most important to you in life. It can become your code of ethics.

When you apply your ideas to the reality of a situation, you can become trapped or even disillusioned. “Integrity or doing the right thing,” for example, is one of Jack’s values. He believes that wearing a mask while out and about is critical in preventing the spread of COVID.

He forgot his mask recently and walked into a store where masks were required. He was exhausted and didn’t want to return home to grab a mask. When he entered the store, no one said anything, so he got what he wanted and departed.

Why do you profess certain principles but act in ways that contradict them? There are several causes for this. I’d like to highlight a few to get you thinking about what you genuinely value and how to connect with it. 

Why do you espouse certain values and yet act out of alignment with them?

In our significant work with firms on defining the team and organizational values, I’ve noticed that many people choose values that they aspire to but that do not reflect the current team or company’s DNA.

One of the executive teams we coached, for example, chose “diversity” as a core value. The company’s top leadership was anything but diverse.

We had a lengthy discussion about diversity being an “aspirational virtue,” not one that the organization is actively demonstrating. It’s fine to have aspirational ideals if you recognize that they represent a desired future state and that you have a strategy and plan in place to achieve them.

If you have 3-5 fundamental principles as a team or as an individual, my rule of thumb is to choose only one as an aspirational goal.

The rest of the values should reflect the guiding principles that you live by. Yes, we all display behaviors at times that do not align with our values as Jack did. The key here is to be aware of the behaviors that support our values and to display the most of the time. 

My rule of thumb is if you have 3-5 core values as a team or individual, select only one as aspirational.

Knowing your values can assist you in making more informed judgments. Knowing what matters to you might help you evaluate options and select the ones that are the best “fit” for you. A vital step in being a leader is gaining clarity about your own values.

According to leadership studies, people who are regarded as the finest and most inspiring leaders have consistent principles that they demonstrate on a daily basis. In other words, leaders model what they preach by doing what they say is important.

For you to feel like you belong, your own values should match those of your team and business. Sometimes your own values coincide with those of your company; other times, they do not.

You will not be pleased if your own values collide with the culture at work, and you may lose interest in what you are doing. One of your personal values, for example, could be quality and achieving a specific level of perfection in whatever you do.

You will become upset if you take a job with a company that places a premium on speed and performing the bare minimum to get the product out the door as quickly as possible. Your own ideas and the company’s values aren’t in sync – they’re at odds.

For some, having to ponder during the pandemic has brought to the surface what is most important to them. I’m not advising you to abandon a necessary job that goes against your ideals right now.

If, on the other hand, you’re feeling hollow and frustrated at work, it might be time to re-evaluate your beliefs and examine how they align with how your company operates. Clarifying your values will aid you in developing a fulfilling life in the long run.


How to Define and Live By Your Personal Values for a Happy Life

How to Track Your Personal Goal’s Progress

10 Characteristics of an Excellent Life Coach

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Causes of Demotivation and Restlessness

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