Living according to your values (at work)

Updated: Jul 11, 2019

Each person lives according to a set of values, whether she realizes it or not. These values follow us everywhere, through every decision, judgment and action. The most effective values are ones that are clearly defined, and that are explicitly used as frameworks within which to make decisions. Less effective values are ones that are implicit, less well understood by their owner, or are regularly overridden. Regardless of how strong or weak they are, most people have a set of values that guide their lives.

We are familiar with living according to our values in a personal setting, especially when it comes to relationships with spouses, friends, and family. We shy away from forming bonds with others who have incompatible values. We raise our children to have a solid set of values.

Values are equally powerful in the workplace, though. A Huffington Post article written by Anne Loehr describes it well:

Ever worked with a manager who knew what mattered and stood her ground about these things? Then you probably worked with a manager who leads from her values. Leading with values is a leadership philosophy that steps outside of measuring success by prestige, personal wealth and power. It is not about emulating the great leaders of yesteryear. Instead, it is a practice of identifying what matters to you, what you stand for and what values you have in your life. With this basis of knowing your purpose, making the right decisions in life and leadership becomes easy.
Making the right decisions is only the beginning. Leading with values is important for leaders because it creates and maintains company culture, informs employee selection, guides the direction of company growth, and adds meaning to the work required to maintain the organization. That meaning starts with the leader, and passes down to all levels of the team.

The picture Loehr paints is that of a leader so many of us strive to be.

What happens, though, when that leader’s values are challenged? When she comes up against a situation, decision, or person who forces her to choose for or against her values? My clients have shared, and I have experienced, that it can be surprisingly difficult to stand up for your values at work when they are challenged.

A client once shared that she couldn’t say no to a former colleague who kept desperately asking her for help on a project for a team she was no longer a part of. This clearly went against her values – one of which was having her boundaries respected – but she kept saying yes anyway. When I asked if she’d allow this to happen in her personal life, she said “of course not!”

The difference is stark, but common. It is so much harder to stand up for challenged values at work than in personal settings.

Below is a list of the top 10 reasons why we do this – why we might not stand up for our values when they’re challenged at work.

  1. Your values may have come into conflict with how you, your team, or the company is incentivized.

  2. You may avoid speaking up out of fear you’ll seem “emotional.”

  3. You’re multi-tasking and are too distracted. You’re not paying enough attention to the situation/meeting/decision, and you don’t even realize your values have been challenged.

  4. You don’t speak up to avoid creating more work for yourself or for others.

  5. You fall into patterns that feel comfortable – inevitable, even – and that you don’t know how to escape. You don’t have the energy (nor know how) to pipe in and change the direction of that meeting/decision/situation. It just keeps happening and at this point, you’re resigned to it because there’s no other (apparent) way.

  6. The traditional (albeit outdated and wrong) notion that the lower you are in the company’s hierarchy, the less you should speak.

  7. Something about that person or situation is triggering something subconscious in you in a way that makes you feel powerless.

  8. If you’ve suppressed or compromised your values for a sustained period of time, it can be hard to know where your values firmly stand. Of course you won’t speak up if you don’t have conviction!

  9. There are no supporting voices inside – or outside – the room.

  10. Doubting yourself — thinking I must be wrong about this or they must have thought about this already.

Which of these reasons ring true for you?

More importantly, how can you start living more in alignment with your values, even when they’re challenged at work?

To start, make your values explicit for yourself. Write a list of them and edit it down until they feel right.

Another powerful move – reaching out to work with Haven Coaching. Every client receives a Values and Goals Worksheet, gets tools and resources around both, and emerges a stronger leader because of them. Book online for a FREE consultation or feel free to contact me with questions!

Haven Coaching