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Turning off the autopilot

I was recently working with an organization to identify their values. Some would say that values are yesterday’s news, a 1990’s activity for an organization to do. Others would argue that listing values becomes another exercise that gets posted on the break room wall and ignored.  I would argue that remembering values is something that should be done daily: we, as individuals and organizations, must intentionally choose to act from our values.

When we interact with each other, with those who purchase our services, with our friends and families, when we make decisions, when we innovate and create new opportunities, the question is: Does that fit with one or more of our values? Or not …?

I challenge all of us not to confuse values with priorities or with our core business philosophy. Values don’t change easily. My values include trust, honesty, integrity, kindness, and positive action. I seek to act based on those values. Values provide an underlying framework, supporting the systems that make up our more visible maps of the world or mental models.

To spend time identifying and make values visible, is to choose to act consciously. It is to choose to turn off the autopilot and check our systems, decisions, and actions to make certain we are acting in concert on our journey.

Here’s a short exercise to try: After your next meeting, spend five minutes considering which of your values you saw on display? Which values of your organization did you see represented? Try the exercise after your next decision or your next conversation. Are the values the ones you expected to see?

3 Comments Post a comment
  1. Kathleen, You are so right about values. One of the most satisfying experiences of my professional career was in helping Goshen College develop a set of core values: Christ-Centered, Passionate Learners, Compassionate Peacemakers, Global Citizens, Servant Leaders. The process of including all constituencies resulted in lasting focus and change. I wrote about how President James Brenneman has incorporated the core values and is taking them into the next generation of leadership here:

    Now at Fetzer ( we also focus on values–especially love, forgiveness, and compassion. And we try everyday to live these a little better and to tell stories of others who inspire us to keep on going with this mission.

    April 28, 2010
    • Kathleen #

      Thank you for sharing a powerful story about the growth and ongoing change that developing and incorporating values brings to an organization. From my perspective, your leadership helped to redefine the college’s values for a new century, even as the college continues the process of modeling and refining today. You make the important point that defining values isn’t a one-time action, but an ongoing way of living in the world. As a Goshen grad, I am a product of the Goshen College vision and values and seek to continue holding these forth in my life and community.

      I’m so pleased to have you bring the Fetzer Institute to the attention of my readers. I encourage my readers to go to the Fetzer site and read further about its mission and the stories of hope. I hope that others will find inspiration there as I do.

      April 28, 2010

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