Leading Blog


What Do You Do and Say When You Believe What You Think is Right?

Knowing right from wrong is one thing, but acting on it is something else. What is stopping us from acting on the values we feel strongly about?

Making decisions based on your values is the right way to live. It is also true that conflicting values are a normal part of individual and organizational life. Learning to voice our values in a way that they will be heard becomes an important part of great leadership.

Values, as distinct from morals and ethics, are those things that are important to you. Great leaders, at any level, preserve core values. But that’s not always easy to do for any number of reasons:

We feel alone
We wonder if we’re being naïve
We wonder if we’re misinformed (and give in to rationalizations)
We wonder if our boss will be receptive
We anticipate that we will encounter resistance and we don’t want to be argumentative
We worry about being ostracized or worse if we appear not to be a team player

Any of these reasons are enough to make you keep your head down. But not speaking up can have large and often unseen repercussions not to mention the lack of emotional commitment we feel when we are not able to live our values. Speaking up can require a bit of finesse. Not everyone sees things the way we do or even if they do, they don’t see how the value applies.

Giving Voice to Values by Mary Gentile, encourages us to think through our values. Most often the kinds of values conflicts that we will encounter are predictable and are of the “right versus right” variety opposed to “right versus wrong choices”—truth versus loyalty; individual versus community; short term versus long term; justice versus mercy. Although we can feel as though our hands are tied, people can and do voice their values successfully. If we can understand our own motivations and those of others, develop the emotional intelligence to identify and practice different approaches to voicing our values in changing contexts (without becoming self-righteous), and reflect on and practice verbalizing our values, we can increase the likelihood that we will voice our values effectively.

Thinking through our values creates options for us to consider when we encounter conflict. Reflect on:
  • What assumptions are we making about the values and the motivations of ourselves and others, as well as about the situational limits we each face, when we encounter values conflicts? What is at stake for everyone involved?
  • How would our view of the situation change if we questioned those assumptions?
  • Even if we are convinced that we are correct about our assumptions, how would we act differently if we held different assumptions?

It is not easy to act on our values in an environment where it is not encouraged. But the first step is to live intentionally or we get caught in the moment and face the regret of saying nothing when something should have been said. Gentile recommends that we begin by asking—“What if we wanted to voice and act on our values? What would we say and do?”—out loud with colleagues and friends. When we do, “we not only generate scripts and skills for ourselves, but we invite others to be part of our process, building a set of allies who are engaged first simply by helping us to solve our problem, with no strings or commitments attached. But once we all work together to craft a response, the barriers begin to feel assailable and our confidence builds. ”

We have seen the effects of the failure to make the right choices. Getting the right kinds of conversations started in the first place is often where people and organizations go wrong. Through Giving Voice to Values, Gentile is trying to raise awareness and give practical approaches to building the skills and courage necessary to know what to do when you know something is wrong.

Giving voice to values is an ongoing skill-building endeavor. It takes—above all—practice.

Posted by Michael McKinney at 04:58 PM
| Comments (0) | This post is about Ethics



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