Going Beyond Aspirational Values

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Shoot it!
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If we are really honest with ourselves, most of us will admit our values are often more statements of the principles we want to guide our lives than they are a framework for our leadership behaviours and decisions. At times, they are aspirational values as opposed to operational values. What? You disagree? Well, in your case you may well be right. However, let me ask you a few questions. When was the last time you were a little less than completely truthful? (Omission, or avoiding giving a response count here). Does your pride or ego ever influence your responses to people and situations? Can you remember a time when you advised someone to do something you were not entirely doing yourself? When was the last time you said you would do something and you didn’t quite get around to it?

Honesty, humility, integrity, reliability, and trustworthiness are amongst the values seen as important for leaders.

When asked to reflect on which values are the most important for leaders to have leaders and followers responses include: honesty, humility, integrity, reliability, and trustworthiness. If you had even the smallest twinge of conscience when reading through the questions I asked above then you have probably, like the rest of us, failed to remain completely true to one or more of the above values. If they are values you agree are important for leaders these values are in the category of aspirational values for you too.

If you can identify any behaviour which has not completely aligned with the values you tell others are important to you they are aspirational values.

I have had conversations about values with numerous leaders over the years. I have yet to have a single one during which anyone has been able to say they always remain true to their stated values. Try listing all the values you would hope the people on your team, or in your organisation, would say you live by. Then, in a completely honest conversation with yourself, evaluate the degree to which you stay true to those values. Ask yourself when the last time was you did something which wasn’t in line with one or more of those values. If you are able to be completely honest I am confident you will be able to identify times your behaviour, decisions, or speech did not align with your stated values.

Being able to have this type of deeply honest self-reflection and identify aspirational values in yourself is a mark of a leaders committed to personal growth. Most values are aspirational values rather than truly enacted values in our lives. As with many things in our life journeys, it is a mark of maturity, and a genuine starting point for change, when we realise many of our values are aspirational values. This realisation enables us to have more honest conversations with ourselves and with others.

Values sit below the surface of and subconsciously inform how we behave.

Values, like beliefs, sit below the surface of our behaviours. They subconsciously inform how we behave. When we put our values into words we articulate what we hope our values are, what we think our values should be, or what we think others think our values should be. It is only when we examine our actual behaviour we can begin to identify what our values really are.

Moving beyond aspirational values starts with an honest evaluation of the degree of alignment between our behaviours and our aspirational values.

As leaders we need to be committed to moving beyond aspirational values. Moving beyond aspirational values starts with an honest evaluation of the degree of alignment between our behaviours and our aspirational values. It is not about beating yourself up when you spot misalignment in yourself. It is more about developing the ability to self examine and spot the misalignment. Until you can see it, you can’t shoot it!

Until you can see it, you can’t shoot it!

As a young teacher I was posted to a small rural town in inland central Queensland. It was a rail head for a cattle and grain farming community. One of the weekend

If you can't spot it you can't shoot it © | Dreamstime.com

If you can’t spot it you can’t shoot it
© | Dreamstime.com

activities was hunting. People in that community hunted feral pigs and kangaroos, which were both in plague proportions and doing significant damage to crops. While it is not something I think I would do now, I enjoyed those bush camping trips and the thrill of the hunt. It is a skill to be able to spot kangaroos, amidst the dense undergrowth and high brown grasses, as you are driving around rough bush tracks. You have to be able to spot them to shoot them. I tried hard to be able to see signs others, who had grown up in the community, seemed to be able to do with no effort at all. It was in the twitch of an ear, the shape of a shadow, or the absence of motion where there should be tops of grass waving in the breeze. The signs there was a kangaroo in the scrub were very subtle.

Spotting behaviours misaligned with aspirational values can be a lot like looking for kangaroos in the bush. It is not the obvious lies, deliberate promises given with no intent to keep them, or obvious taking of personal credit for a team effort which are hard to spot. These should be easy to spot and, thus, easy to shoot. It is the subtle behaviours we might be able to justify to ourselves and to others, which are harder to spot and harder to shoot.

It is the subtle behaviours we might be able to justify to ourselves and to others, which are harder to spot and harder to shoot.

It may not be necessary for you, but I have found that I value the observations of one or two close friends to help me spot the misaligned behaviours in my leadership behaviours and decisions. I have asked a coupe of close friends to be aspirational values spotters for me. I have communicated to them the values I want to guide my life. We have discussed the ones I can struggle with sometimes and I have asked them to tell me if they spot evidence of misalignment between my aspirational values and my decisions or behaviours.

Fourth Question Leaders know that if they are to successfully put the interests of others before their own they need to be deliberate, strategic, and vigilant about moving beyond aspirational values.

Takeaways

  • If you can identify any behaviour which has not completely aligned with the values you tell others are important to you they are aspirational values.
  • Values sit below the surface of and subconsciously inform how we behave.
  • Moving beyond aspirational values starts with an honest evaluation of the degree of alignment between our behaviours and our aspirational values.
  • Until you can see it, you can’t shoot it!
  • It is the subtle behaviours we might be able to justify to ourselves and to others, which are harder to spot and harder to shoot.
  • Fourth Question Leaders know that if they are to successfully put the interests of others before their own they need to be deliberate, strategic, and vigilant about moving beyond aspirational values.

 

Additional Resources

What are Values?
Personal Growth: How to align your Values and Your life
Make Your Values Mean Something
Organisational Values: A dynamic Perspective