Naming and living my values
I am making my way through Dare to Lead and one of the main points laid out is the value of confidently knowing and “living into our values”. Underscoring the importance of knowing them, the author, Brené Brown writes, “our values are what lead us to the arena door - we’re willing to do something uncomfortable and daring because of our beliefs. And when we get in there and stumble or fall, we need our values to remind us why we went in, especially when we are facedown.”
Side bar: if you are not familiar with the author's work, the arena she is referring to comes from Theodore Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” speech, in which the arena serves as a metaphor for the spaces in our lives where we struggle but push forward.
In today’s competitive fast-paced work world, values and beliefs are powerful things to harness that act as your Northstar and can intrinsically motivate your people to endure the tough moments. In addition to that, companies that live into their values are the ones we tend to see with iconic cultures like Southwest Airlines or Apple. Brown’s statement about values “reminding us why we went in” makes me think of a quote I have often-cited from the poet David Whyte who spoke of the time a CEO approached him declaring Whyte had to come work for him saying, “the language we use inside our business is not 'large enough' for what we are trying to do.” From where I stand, the executive meant exactly what Brown is talking about. He recognized a need for language that would compel his people to drive the company forward and typical ra-ra business language like, “we want to be #1 in our industry”, wasn’t going to cut it. He needed to convey why the company does what it does in an emotionally resonant way, transforming the company into something bigger than a product-centric lens it is easy to hold.
When it comes to the living part of your values and compelling language, Netflix offers a simple way of knowing what yours are at present, “your actual values as opposed to the nice-sounding ones are reflected in the way you reward, promote and let go of people.” This is the part where you should stop and reflect on the people who are rising or in leadership positions at your organization. Do they embody the values written in your corporate documents. If not, for me this is an example of when goals around value creation and growth end up dictating your values rather than the other way around.
To get familiar with Brown's process, I worked my way through the page of values offered up to consider and began to narrow it down with hash marks
I wrote all of those down and reflecting on the abbreviated list. The goal per the book is to limit yourself to two. I settled on curiosity and fun.
Once you have your values articulated you then “need to define three or four behaviors that support your values and three or four 'slippery behaviors' - actions you find tempting even though they are counter to your values.”
When it comes to curiosity, I once heard the venture capitalist Marc Andreessen operates from a principle of “strong convictions, loosely held”. When I reflect on how I move through the world, it’s fair to say I am an impassioned person but I see that passion as something flexible rather than fervent and steadfast. I aim to remain open to possibility and have my mind changed through concepts and experiences. I am often in search of things foreign or intriguing. This can become a slippery behavior when I say “yes” before wrapping up tasks at hand.
When it comes fo fun, this is a simple proposition for me. Life is short and while I hope to things of value to others during my “stay”, if I’m not having a good time with the work at hand, my friends and family, I don’t much see the point. When I think about having fun at work, I lean on the words of HBO's CEO, “smart and fun are not mutually exclusive”. I have held that statement close ever since hearing it. I want to do good work but you can bet your bottom dollar I’ll be employing some humor and making minor amount of mischief along the way.
I plan to work further on operationalizing these two values so I can more clearly use them as guiding stars going forward.
Go Forth Boldly