Clarifying and Applying Personal Values

Clarifying and Applying Personal Values

Clarifying and Applying Personal Values: Priorities and Integrity

In a Nutshell

        Identifying and focusing
on our personal values helps us become successful.  By clarifying
and applying our values, we can achieve …

· enhanced self-awareness, …

· more effective time management, …

· greater integrity, and …

· greater credibility as a leader

In This Issue

Hughes: Knowing and Acting on Her Values

        Presidential advisor, Karen
Hughes (second from the left in the photo above), is leaving Washington,
D.C. this month to return with her family to their home in Texas. 
She believes that Texas is a better environment for raising her teenage
son.  For this, she sacrifices having close contact with President
Bush and having significant influence in the President’s decisions. 
I really admire Karen Hughes for knowing and acting on her values1.

What Values and
a Values Complex Are

        I was at a strategic planning
retreat last week, and one of the items on the agenda was to reconsider
the organizations’ values.  From the discussion, I could tell that
it wasn’t clear to everyone what the term “values” meant.  The term
meant something much different to me than it did to the guy from finance. 
Before diving into a discussion of personal values, I should probably offer
a definition of values and a values complex.

        Our personal values are
our convictions regarding what we believe is important and desirable
Each of us has a “complex of values.”  A values complex is the set
of values that we hold and the conflict, compatibility, and hierarchical
relationships among them2.  Personal values come in two
varieties; terminal and instrumental3.  Terminal values
are the desired end-states that a person strongly wants to achieve such
as “a comfortable life”, “freedom”, or “salvation.”  Each individual
has a different set of terminal values in his or her values complex. 
Instrumental values are convictions about a person’s desired characteristics
or ways of behaving such as “ambitious”, “forgiving”, or “polite.” 
We possess instrumental values because we believe that each one helps us
achieve our terminal values.  For instance, “ambition” may be an instrumental
value that helps one progress toward the terminal value of “a comfortable

        On occasion, we encounter
dilemmas where we cannot simultaneously act in accord with two of our values. 
For instance, Karen Hughes values both her career and her family, and living
in Washington, D.C. was serving her career but not her family.

        We resolve such dilemmas
by assessing the priority of the relevant values in our values complex. 
Each of us has a set of core values that we rarely subordinate to others. 
These core values are our personal principles.  Karen Hughes is resolving
her dilemma by making her family a higher priority, moving back to Texas,
and participating in presidential decision making as much as possible from

        Of course, valuing the right
this is also very important.  In First Things First, Stephen
Covey and colleagues caution that our principles must contain more than
self-centered values such as “self respect” or “a sense of accomplishment”
because they can push us to develop arrogant, utilitarian relationships
with others4.  The authors suggest that we develop core
values that are more holistic and anchored in the fundamental realities
of nature and healthy social relationships (in his terms, “the law of the
farm”).  Making your family a higher priority than your career seems
to be a good example of subordinating self-centered values.

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Why Values Matter

        Attention to our values
helps us (a) become more self-aware, (b) make ethical decisions, (c) prioritize
our tasks, and (d) develop credibility as a leader.  First, understanding
one’s own core values is integral to becoming self-aware5
Self-awareness, in turn, helps us understand how people perceive us and
allows us to identify the personal qualities that we would like to change. 
Values influence our choices, but our choices also influence our values
over time.  If we neglect to examine the congruence of our actions
with our values, our actions may be guided by immediate concerns and instant
gratification rather than our values.  Change in values is a slow
process, but it often begins with changes in behavior6
Over time, we come to take for granted the choices that we repeatedly make
even if they are initially incongruent with our values, and our values
begin to drift as well.  Clarification and reclarification of our
personal values can halt that drift.

        A second reason why values
are important to managers is that people who internalize and act on standards
of justice and human rights achieve a high level of moral development,
and they make ethical decisions7.  During our lifetimes,
we pass through various stages of moral development.  Small children,
at the preconventional level of moral development, make choices
on the basis of the immediate consequences of their decisions.  People
who have not developed beyond the preconventional level of moral development
only choose an ethical alternative if it’s in their immediate personal
interests.  People who progress to the conventional level of
moral development make decisions on the basis of the formal rules and informal
norms of their social context, and will choose ethical alternatives even
at the cost of forgoing their self-interests.  The small percentage
of people who progress to the highest level of moral development, the postconventional
stage, make decisions on the basis of human rights, fairness and justice. 
Such people are willing to ignore their self-interests and may even violate
society’s rules and norms in order to act in accord with their principles. 
People who achieve the postconventional level of moral development are
trustworthy.  They cannot be bribed and they are not swayed by peer

        Third, values are important
to managers because an understanding of one’s personal values is useful
for time management.  Most of us have the opportunity–not to mention
the encouragement–to do more things than we’ll ever have time to do. 
Consequently, we need to wisely select the tasks that we’ll work on. 
A clear picture of our personal values allows us to rank the tasks on our
“to do” lists according to how closely each task is associated with what’s
really important to us.

        Finally, having a clear
set of personal values helps us build the credibility and trust that facilitate
leadership.  The most challenging times for leaders are times when
they must lead others into “the unknown”, leading innovation, and managing
change.  Transformational leaders are able to persuade their followers
to take a leap of faith and follow them into the unknown.  In other
words, transformational leaders build trust.  Trust is a willingness
to take a risk and make oneself vulnerable.  We are more inclined
to trust people when we understand their values, and observe that their
actions are congruent with those values, because we can reliably predict
how they will act.

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Practicing This Management

Your Personal Values
.  As individuals, each of us can
clarify our personal values by taking time to reflect on what is truly
most important to us and writing those things down.  It can be difficult
to make a comprehensive list on the first try, so it might be advantageous
to make an initial list and then return to it after a few days to allow
for mental incubation.

        You can also compare your
list of values to an extensive published list of values that people commonly
possess.  (For instance, one of the most used lists is Rokeach’s8.) 
You will notice that many of those values are on your list in one form
or another and others are not.  Some of them shouldn’t be because
those things aren’t important to you.  However, the real advantage
of comparing lists is that you may find values that you want to add to
your list.  Think about the implications of the values on your list
for your daily activities and think of ways in which your actions can become
more congruent with those values.

        Clarifying personal values
can also be a group activity.  People can form groups and share their
lists of personal values and explain why they are important.  I would
recommend some ground rules though: Participants should approach the activity
as a learning exercise and not as a performance or competition.  No
one should be made to feel self-conscious about having difficulty generating
an elaborate or altruistic set of values.  Some people are simply
more introspective than others and therefore are better able to produce
an extensive list.  It is important to bear in mind that the goal
of the exercise is to stimulate thought.  Everyone needs to develop
his or her own list without overt or tacit pressure to accept particular

Does anyone know of an online inventory of personal values? 
Please let me know.

        Having identified a list of
personal values, it helps to write a personal values statement or credo. 
Kouzes and Posner recommend imagining that you will be taking a long leave
of absence from your place of work and that you are writing a memo to leave
behind that details what is most import to be accomplished during your
absence9.  This is something that you can share with others
so that they can better understand you, or something that you can keep
private to use as a guide for your actions.  Periodically checking
the list is a good way to reclarify your values.

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the Talk.”
  Having clarified what is really important
to you, it is essential that you take the next step and act on your values. 
Failure to act in accord with your values–in a principled way–is a disservice
to you and others.  When you’ve clarified what is really important,
the challenge then becomes resisting the influence of work, social pressures
and immediate gratification to deviate from what is really important. 
This is a particularly vital concern for time management.  Since most
of us have more opportunities and demands on us than we could ever fully
satisfy, we need to carefully examine how our values connect with how we
spend our time.

        When you act in accord with
your core values (i.e., act in a principled way), you do the “right thing”
for its own sake, but you get the added bonus of being a more influential
leader.  People tend to be more receptive to the persuasive appeals
of principled leaders.  Principled leaders have more credibility and
engender a higher level of trust.  There’s less of a concern that
a principled leader will mislead or have a hidden agenda.

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Values in Others
.  Effective team leaders and business
executives build common values among the people they lead.  Up to
this point, I have described values as if they originate from within a
person.  In fact, a person’s environment and life experiences shape
their values.  Moreover, social systems such as business organizations,
schools and churches influence their members’ values.

        Instilling values in employees
is part of the “socialization” process10.  New employees
are socialized into to the context of their organization and their work
unit.  In organizations with strong cultures, the values of the broader
organization may have a greater influence on employees’ values than their
work units.  However, anyone who has made several lateral moves within
an organization knows that the values of different work units in organizations
also differ.  Managers can have a significant impact on their subordinates’

        New employees can be socialized
through applicant selection criteria, public statements of values, orientation
programs, mentoring programs, symbols, stories and language.  As applicants
for vacant positions, new employees have had the chance to observe which
information the employer believes to be important for making hiring decisions. 
For instance, discussions regarding rapport and efforts to establish it
during the interview process may convey that camaraderie is important. 
The use of an intelligence test may indicate that intellect is valued. 
Prior to the start of employment, new hires “presocialize” by accessing
information about the organization from personal contacts and even from
its web site.  (For instance, look at the statement of principles
on Delphi Corporation’s “Careers” page on their web site: 
For this reason, statements of an organization’s values on its web site
and in its annual reports may be the first opportunity for organizations
to convey their values to their new hires.  Once employment begins,
many organizations and work units within organizations devote time to formal
employee orientation programs, many of which broach values.  Mentors
can also influence their proteges’ values, so managers need to consider
the values of the senior personnel that they assign to mentor new employees. 
Symbols such as attire and the physical workspace nonverbally communicate
values.  For example, an open office space may indicate that a work
unit or organization values collaboration.  Many of the stories that
senior personnel share with new employees help them understand the value
system of their organization or work unit.  Finally, the jargon used
can also convey values.  For instance, derogatory names for a type
of customer or a work process demonstrate employees’ disdain for them.

        While it may be easier to
shape the values of rookies, the values of veterans can also be influenced. 
It is essential that managers scrutinize what gets rewarded, because that
is what will be valued.  For example, quality gurus have long admonished
that productivity-based incentives (in the absence of quality-based incentives)
will undermine quality initiatives.  Managers also need to examine
the influence of praise and recognition.  When you’ve clarified what
you value, then determine how you have publicly acknowledged or celebrated
actions that are consistent with those values.  Have you posted a
note on a bulletin board, sent out a congratulatory memo, or included a
notice in the employee newsletter?  It’s important to remember that
both pay and nonfinancial rewards convey values.

In Summary, …

        It’s wise for managers to
spend some time thinking about their values and how their actions are compatible
or incompatible with those values.  By clarifying and applying our
values, we will do a better job managing our time, and we will have greater
integrity and credibility as leaders.  On a personal note, thinking
about this topic today has made me face the fact that some of my behaviors
have been inconsistent with my values, and I have taken affirmative steps
to change the behaviors.  Spending time thinking about values is very

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1.  Chen, E & McManus, D.  (2002, April).  Valued
Bush Confidant to Leave White House.  Los Angeles Times
April 24, p. A1.

2.  Schwartz, S. H.  (1992).  Universals in the content
and structure of values: Theoretical advances and empirical tests in 20
countries.  In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social
, 25: 1-65.  Orlando, FL: Academic Press.

3.  Rokeach, M.  (1973).  The nature of human values
New York: The Free Press.

4.  Covey, S. R., Merrill, A. R., & Merrill, R. R.  (1995).
things first
.  New York: Simon & Schuster.

5.  Whetten, D. A., & Cameron, K. S.  (2002).  Developing
management skills
, (5th ed.).  Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

6.  Kelman, H. C.  (1958).  Compliance, identification
and internalization: Three processes of attitude change.  Conflict
, 2: 51-60.

7.  Kohlberg, L.  (1976).  Moral stages and moralization,
the cognitive-developmental approach.  In T. Lickona (Ed.), Moral
development and behavior.
  New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 
Rest, J., Narvaez, D., Bebeau, M. J., & Thoma, S. J.  (1999).
moral thinking: A neo-Kohlbergian approach
.  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence
Erlbaum Associates.

8.  Rokeach’s list and similar lists of values are widely available. 
For instance, see page 60 in Business ethics: A global and managerial
, by David Fritzsche (New York: McGraw-Hill).

9.  Kouzes, J. M. & Posner, B. Z.  (1993).  Credibility:
How leaders gain and lose it, why people demand it
.  San Francisco:

10.  Van Maanen, J. & Schein, E.  (1979).  Towards
a theory of organizational socialization.  In B. M. Staw (Ed.), Research
in Organizational Behavior
, vol. 1, pp. 209-264.  Greenwich, CT:
JAI Press.

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Photo Credit

        AP Photo/Pablo Martinez
Monsivais: e-mailed to me from Yahoo! News;

About the Newsletter
and Subscriptions

        LeaderLetter is written
by Dr. Scott Williams, Department of Management,
Soin College of Business
, Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. 
It is a supplement to my MBA 751 – Managing People in Organizations class. 
It is intended to reinforce the course concepts and maintain communication
among my former MBA 751 students, but anyone is welcome to subscribe. 
In addition, subscribers are welcome to forward this newsletter to anyone
who they believe would have an interest in it.  To subscribe,
simply send an e-mail message to me requesting subscription.  Of course,
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E-mail Your Comments

        Whether you are one of my
former students or not, I invite you to share any insights or concerns
you have regarding the topic of this newsletter or any other topic relating
to management skills.  Please e-mail
them to me.  Our interactions have been invaluable.  Let’s keep
the conversation going.

A Good, Clean Joke

This one’s dedicated to my wife, Amy!

        A concerned husband spoke
to his neighbor, a physician, about his wife: “I’m concerned that my wife
is losing her hearing.  She never responds the first time I speak
to her and I always have to repeat myself.”

        “Well,” the doctor replied,
“go home and stand about 20 feet from her and say something to her. 
If she doesn’t reply, move about five feet closer and say it again. 
If moving closer helps, then she should have her hearing checked.”

        When the husband gets home,
he does exactly as instructed.  He starts off about 20 feet from his
wife in the kitchen as she’s chopping some vegetables and says, “Honey,
what’s for dinner?”  No answer.  He moves about five feet closer
and asks again.  Still no answer.  He repeats this two more times
with the same result.

        Finally, he moves right
behind her and asks again, “Honey, what’s for dinner?”

        She replies, “For the fifth
time, Bob, vegetable stew!”

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