We have to know (and remember) our values to live them

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A few years ago I made the comment to an executive mentor that it’s hard for a certain group of employees to live all of the organization’s values. Before she could chime in, I listed a dozen or so excuses that I’ve heard from this specific group why this is the case.

Perhaps some of those reasons were even legit, I thought. I was expecting disagreement and lots of reasons arguing the opposite view from my mentor. Instead of giving her opinion, her response was:

“Tell me what the values are.”

I was able to list maybe two (the easy ones) out of seven or eight values.

“How can anyone live any values if they can’t remember them?” she asked next.

Very good point. Some people make points by simply asking questions. That can be powerful when done right.

I have since used this exercise a number of times and many times, people also can’t remember the values that they’ve set out to live by. I’ve also found this to be true with executives who were deeply involved in coming up with the values and then “rolling them out” to the rest of their company.

When asked “without looking them up, tell me your values” I’ve gotten the deer-in-the-headlight look. “Shoot, we haven’t looked at them.”

And this is not a story about showing people up who have forgotten their values. It’s a story about the importance of remembering them, keeping them in front of us and then living them. If we can’t remember them, we can’t live them.

It’s easy to get into a rut, a routine of going through our daily lives on autopilot. We do what we do, when we do it. A set of values and beliefs certainly is part of that but which ones? Our autopilot values may not the ones we would actively implement or have decided upon as a community.

When we make active choices, we can live and then share our authentic experiences and stories. Of course, we do have to remind ourselves of those choices.

My values

  • Honesty and truthfulness
  • Openness
  • Being curious
  • Enjoying the journey
  • Acceptance (not necessarily agreement) of different viewpoints
  • Being clear and seeking clarity
  • Innovation

Can I live them? Sure, but only if I remember them.