I remember walking out of my first class in grad school thinking: “I’ve gotten my money’s worth already.”
First class … day one, class one of a two-year graduate program on Organizational Leadership.
It was intense.
My professor was a woman from Iran who specializes in Leadership Development and Organizational Strategy. Her course for that semester … ethics. It was the most influential course I took throughout my entire academic career.
We spent evenings listening to her inform us of our responsibility as business leaders to be aware of the ethical codes set by organizations we may end up working for. And then one night, it got personal. She walked in with bags of bite-sized Hershey’s candy bars. I thought I’d hit the jackpot and decided to grab a few and indulge myself. As empty wrappers littered our tables, our professor began to tell us about the Ivory Coast and the slave labor that was occurring, all to Hershey’s knowledge, around their most precious product: chocolate.
You could see the horror in all of our faces. 1) that we didn’t know about the origin of products we frequently purchase and 2) that we had just eaten a handful of chocolate that had likely been produced by a child whose parents thought they were sending him to become educated and have a better life.
Her exercise was the foundation for a conversation we would spend weeks discussing: personal values.
She wanted us to know that things aren’t so black and white. Should an American company operate by American rules on someone else’s soil? Is that appropriate? Can we impose our values on other cultures both as individuals and organizations? What are our values as leaders within these organizations? Do they align with the values of the company we’re working for? If not, is it appropriate for us to require that they compromise their values so we don’t have to compromise ours?
It wasn’t pretty. Isn’t everything black and white? What do you mean when you say that my leadership style is requiring others compromise their values?
One week she handed out a list of values and 5 notecards to each of us in the room. She told us to choose 5 values on the worksheet and write one value per notecard.
I wanted to die. Dramatic? Maybe. But I was going to grad school to learn how to be a better leader and ultimately run an organization into greatness and I didn’t even know what I cared about. Well, I didn’t know what I cared about enough to articulate it in one-word answers.
My first point of paranoia: There were a gazillion values on that list. How could I pick just 5? Second, what if my values made me look like an asshole? I was in a graduate program with a bunch of softies who liked to cry and talk about feelings. If I didn’t choose values that made me look compassionate, it would only confirm my classmate’s theory that I sucked as a person.
I finally got over it and picked my values: respect, responsibility, influence, competency/excellence, exploration.
In my thesis, I was able to look back at this first class and break these down a little:
1. Respect – Everyone deserves to be heard. Human rights should not be violated not matter race, creed, sexual orientation or age. People are capable of much more than we give them credit for, which means I am responsible for asking questions before making assumptions.
2. Responsibility – As a leader I feel that I am responsible for creating spaces for others to maximize their potential. One of the more devastating experiences in my life has been believing I am capable of of something great, but not having the platform or support to actualize it. We also have access to more information than ever before. I believe I am responsible for doing what I can with my time, talents and resources to create as much good as possible in the world.
3. Influence – I have a core conviction to build a platform that has the capacity to be a compelling force in the way people act, behave and think. This platform will be a group effort, not led solely by my own opinions.
4. Competency/Excellence – This one is two-fold. To excel, by definition means you have to not only do better than, but also surpass others. In my opinion, the average person does not want to work hard enough to adopt a mindset of excellence .. it’s too hard. I’m not ok with settling for average. I believe most people settle for average because it is too painful to admit someone else may be more qualified. I think that’s lame. I strive to surround myself with people who are capable, uniquely talented in specific areas and strive to work together to create something that suppresses the status quo and redefines what people deem possible.
5. Exploration – “To travel for the purpose of discovery.” Exploration diminishes our fears and assumptions of something in which we are completely unfamiliar. Exploration has changed what I care about by exposing opportunities for my passions to flourish. Exploration reminds me of my desire for adventure and discovery. And it ultimately leads to a better understanding of the world around me.
What are your top 5 values? Do you feel like your values are being compromised in your workplace? Are you causing others to compromise their values by requiring they adapt to yours?