Building your Value System

Keeping good time

Keeping good time

Effective leaders have their own personal branding, their value system.  In this article I’d like to breakdown this concept into a few components:  understanding what a value system is, why it is important and also how to go about building one.

What is a Value System

Values or principles are your personal positions, something that you value highly and will not give up on.  Steve Jobs stood for product perfection and aesthetics.  When an engineer who discovered how to draw rectangles on the Mac (a big discovery at the time) eagerly showed it, Steve asked the engineer to improve upon it and find out how to draw rectangles with rounded corners.  Jobs’ biography goes on to state that Jobs took the engineer on a walk around the block showing him examples after examples of round-corner rectangles.  Relentlessly pushing the boundaries towards perfect product design was Jobs’ value system.

My dad’s value system included excellent time management and for finishing tasks.  He would never leave a task unfinished.  His punctuality was impeccable.  At home we would dread anything that would cause him or the family to miss an appointed time.  Our friends would say that one could set a watch based on my dad’s activities.  That was his value system.

Value system provides a certain brand to an individual.  Time management, attention to detail, being morally correct, setting a goal and achieving it are all examples of values.  You can pick one or a few and practice it to make it your own.

Importance of a personal Value System

Once your value system becomes known, you set a certain consistency of behavior.  Folks would pretty much know in advance (and plan towards) your response to repeated situations. 

This works well for you in the following ways:

  a)     Introduces consistency in expectation and behavior.  Folks would not wait around or expect a different response to something that you’ve already set a standard for.

  b)     Folks would know ahead of time certain decisions based on your value system.  They would avoid bringing anything to you for a decision, which they know you will not approve of.  You won’t even have to fight such cases.

  c)      More importantly, it builds a brand.  For example if you have established good track record in working effectively with cross-cultural teams, and build certain principles around that, the next time such an initiative comes about, you will be a front-runner for leading those types of initiatives. 

  d)     A solid value system helps build trust around you.  People around you know that you will stand for something based on your values and admire you for that.

  e)     Persons with strong value systems are seen as an inspiring source of strength and naturally attract followers.  Transitioning to leadership becomes a logical, consequential and natural next step.

Negative Value System:

Similar to positive values negative values are equally noticed. 

I knew a colleague at work who was very enthusiastic at starting new initiatives.  Gaining support, building up the project, encouraging the teams and conducting memorable kick-offs would come very naturally to her.  Unfortunately, once the initiatives got underway, she would lose steam, experience self-doubts and the projects would stall.  Most of her of her home projects also met with the same fate.  As a result, there would be multiple “construction areas” around her. 

Needless to say, this pattern became evident after a while, and then there were consequences.  You want to avoid building up such values.

How do you build your own Value System:

This is the conscious self-improvement part. 

It all begins with selecting one or few values that you want to practice, perfect and above all, proclaim to have.

You can cheat and pick something that you either have, or one that will come easy to you.  I’d advise that you pick something difficult.  For me, currently I am working on “equanimity”, i.e. staying calm under pressure.  This is something I really wish I could have.  And when I see examples of coolness being displayed (see Chris Gayle’s picture, after he slipped and fell playing a cricket shot; calmly he stayed flat on the ground admiring his shot in frong of 30000 spectators!), I wish I could pull off something like that.  In good time, I will!

Next step is to put some measurements around it, since you can only improve what you can measure.  Look for every opportunity to practice it and then evaluate yourself against your target.

It would help if you can publish your intent.  Let a few friends know that you intend to practice this quality.  This works in two ways: (a) they will support you and report any transgressions and (b) you will now have to live up to your statement.  In a way this forces you to practice even harder.

The key is to monitor, measure and keep improving.

Before you know it, the few values that you have practiced will be on display for all to see, and this will become your brand image.

Does this work?

Absolutely!  Check out Beth-Ann’s comment on my “patience”.  It took me a long time, but I worked on staying patient and finally more than one person has commented (complimented really) on my ability to stay patient and work through issues.  In prior years, those around me would have laughed at such a thought.

Building a solid value system is a terrific skill and help you transition to leading initiatives naturally.

Image: (c) Kay Leadership Academy