Q: Last month I participated in The Leadership Challenge® Workshop through work and loved it. I did the Values Cards exercise during the class and then did the exercise again this month. The selections I just made turned out to be somewhat different than the ones I chose during class. Is this significant? Has there been research done as to why values might change, and what that might mean to an individual or organization?
A: Thanks for your important question. We know from our research that values drive commitment, so it’s vital to spend time getting clear about our own values and the values of our constituents. Spending the kind of time that you did on values clarification is essential to your leadership development and the engagement of your constituents. Our data indicates that when leaders are highly clear about their leadership philosophy—the values and beliefs that guide their actions and decisions—their constituents are 40% more engaged in their work compared to constituents whose leaders are not clear about their leadership philosophy.
Renowned social psychologist Milton Rokeach, creator of the widely-used Rokeach Value Survey, spent his career exploring the subject. He refers to values as enduring beliefs and finds that values are preferences that last over time and across most contexts. In other words, your core values are likely to be mostly the same at home, at work, and in the community.
That said, it may take several iterations of a values clarification exercise to truly uncover your enduring beliefs. Doing the exercise in a workshop is a valuable first step, but we’d encourage you to repeat the exercise several times, asking yourself not only “what are my values?” but also “why is this important to me?” Sometimes asking that second question helps you clarify which values are more enduring than others.
There is a possibility that the 5 to 7 Value Cards you selected during your workshop exercise may not have completely represented the full spectrum of your values. Because there are between 150 and 250 values words in the English language, depending upon the research one is looking at, it’s possible that the values that were different for you the second time around were simply those other values you left off your list the first time.
Additionally, context can influence certain values we select at any given time. For example, if you are asked to select “values that should guide decisions at work" you may choose one set of cards that doesn’t include a value that you chose when asked about "the values that should guide decisions and actions in your family." We find this is quite common. It suggests that we have many values that are important to us, and that some are more important in one context than in another. In addition, consider what could happen if there was some life-altering event—either positive or negative, such as winning the lottery or getting a dream job…or getting fired or a spouse passing away. Any of these types of circumstances could influence the words you select to represent your most important values at that moment in time.
We encourage you to continue your exploration until you feel that the values you select are the ones that truly represent those “enduring beliefs” that should guide you in making decisions in your life regardless of context. It’s not necessarily an easy exercise—and it may require several iterations—but it is a very important and rewarding one.
Jim Kouzes, cited by The Wall Street Journal as one of the twelve best executive educators in the U.S., is the Dean’s Executive Fellow of Leadership, Leavey School of Business, Santa Clara University. Together with Barry Posner, he is author of The Leadership Challenge—now in its fifth edition—and over thirty other books and workbooks on leadership and leadership development.