A leader’s beliefs and values will affect their judgment and behavior regardless of protestations otherwise!
This is the season for hopeful politicians to showcase their wares in anticipation of being elected to office. In the midst of the blather we are subjected to on news channels with growing frequency we hear a common pronouncement of the values they hold. Much of the rhetoric seeks to create a bond with the voters by suggesting that the politician identifies with and shares common values with the masses who he or she hopes will elect them over other candidates.
Just because a person declares a value set similar to your own you cannot assume they are the same. For instance, let’s say the candidate espouses a value for ‘family’. Sounds good but what does the person really mean? Or let’s say a leader stresses the value of ‘integrity’. We may think we know what is meant but we can’t be sure. Just because the term used to express a value is the same, the expression and outcome may be entirely opposite to our expectations. Why is that?
When a person says that they will suspend their personal beliefs or values to govern effectively they are portraying an impossible scenario. No matter how hard one tries he or she cannot divorce themselves from their inner convictions and beliefs. They can mask them, they can hide them, they can try to suspend them but they will not be able to remove their influence. What we truly believe (trust in, rely on, cling to) establishes our values (what we esteem). Our beliefs and values are a fundamental part of our intellectual, emotional, and spiritual makeup and wiring.
So, simply declaring a value is not significant in and of itself. Declaring what gives rise to and influences one’s values is significant. We can envision the behavior produced by a declared value when we consider what gives life to that value for the one expressing it.
I have yet to hear a journalist press a politician to explain what they mean about a value they say they hold. More significantly, I have yet to hear a reporter ask a variation of the following question?
What informs, conditions, and establishes the values you say you hold?
In the spirit of full disclosure I have personally chosen Jesus Christ and the Bible to be my authority for faith and practice. When I allow something else to creep in and unseat this authority the decisions I make and the behavior produced is inconsistent with what I say I believe. Competing authorities will always be there. I must decide what will rule my beliefs, values and behavior on a daily basis.
In its most simple form values are the hills you are prepared to die on, the principles you intend to live by, the filter through which decisions are processed and made. Every decision we have made, are making, or will make is based on the values we hold, whether or not we can articulate them.
For many of us, our system of values is an unordered set of qualities often in conflict with one another. One day, we make a decision of merit; the next day, a bad decision with negative consequences. For still others, the consistency of the decisions they make may indicate a congruent system of values.
Like beliefs, values can be aspirations rather than observable realities in our lives. Men and women often ask me to mentor them. They know I am big on values, so they often begin their comments by stating their values. I listen intently and respectfully. I then ask them the following question: “What decision have you made or what action have you taken within the last three months that gives evidence of the values you say you hold?” Many of them cannot give me any examples. This is due to the fact that the values they say they hold may simply be an interest, preference, or affirmation but not an actionable commitment as yet.
The most important question to ask however, is what stands in the privileged vantage point of authority over your values? Whatever stands in a position of authority over one’s value system will determine the quality and substance of the behavior it produces.
For instance, a Christian can have a value for truth—and so can a humanist or atheist. What that value produces in one’s behaviors will more than likely be different from the others. A Christian’s underlying belief may be that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and if he holds to His teaching, he will know the truth, and the truth will set him free. His behavior has the focus of living by God’s truth, instead of the world’s truth. For the humanist, having a value for truth may be favorable for business or the esteem of respected colleagues. The practice of truth for the atheist may be to promote his or her beliefs as the only truth. So you see, what informs your values makes all the difference.
When values are loosely acquired without attention to any ordering structure or congruent belief system, the values can produce conflictive results—they may be inconsistent from one day to the next depending on the circumstance or the situation.
Many authorities compete for influence over our values including tradition, heritage, experience, convention, culture, some ideology or philosophy, our faith, or some “-ism” such as postmodernism, Marxism, capitalism, socialism, humanism or a combination of some or all of them.
Some of us are unclear about our values. Answers to the following questions might clarify your values.
- What is it that I treasure so highly that I am irritated when other people don’t also treasure it?
- What are the things I respect so deeply that I tend to be resentful of those who treat them with disrespect?
- If I knew that I had six months to live, what would become the most important to me? What would become unimportant to me?
- What core value(s) do I hope my children will adopt?
If it were possible to follow you around without being noticed for the next three months, I would be able to tell you what you truly valued. Your behavior over time would reveal your values. If I could talk to people close to you—a wife or a husband, a brother or a sister, a father or a mother, or a close friend—and I asked them what your values are, they could probably tell me. If I were to ask your work associates what you valued, they could probably tell me.
I often give an exercise to the people I mentor. I instruct them to meet with their spouse or loved one or someone who really knows them. They are to assure that person that there will be no argument with or consequences to his or her response when they ask this person the following question: “Based on your observations of my behaviors over time, what would you say are my values?”
Acting on one’s values over an extended period of time will embed them in your spiritual DNA. When that happens they cease to be a value to be cultivated, they become a virtue that marks your character. You operate from them without much thought because they are now an integral part of who you are.
What informs, conditions, mediates, and establishes your value set will determine the nature, quality, and substance of the behavior it produces.
Are your values an aspiration or an operational commitment?
What informs and conditions the values you say you hold?
What provides consistency, coherence, and congruence to your value system?
What organizes and prioritizes your values?
What would your loved ones, work associates, friends (and enemies) say you value?
How do the values you say you hold inform what you do?
To be continued…