Sunday, December 7, 2008

During Hard Times, Lean Into Your Values

The glass really is half-full.

Hard economic times force us to look elsewhere for happiness, and help shake-us out of our sleep, thinking that external circumstances are reliable sources of security and fulfillment. Dot-com and real-estate booms lull us into a false sense of security. Fortunately, they don’t last.

So where can we look? Our values.

Values accompany us through boom and bust, promotion or layoff, IPO or bankruptcy. But having our values along for the ride has no potency unless they are enacted upon and utilized—in good times and bad. One thing I have seen time and again, with clients and in my own journey, is that when we put commitment and action into our guiding values, they do just that; they guide us out of misery, fear, depression and confusion.

How does that happen?

Values are not merely a list that you put on a flipchart or the blank spaces on a personality assessment. Values are not words; they are the DNA of a healthy human being. In order to live, they must live. Not on a list, but in ones everyday actions, conversations and thoughts. If “freedom” is a value of yours, you must make the effort for “freedom” to be present in your life. Yes, effort! Energy. Action. Not just wishing. Action around freedom might look like claiming a few extra hours to yourself, having a difficult conversation with a colleague where you speak your truth, or a meditative practice that helps you disengage from the drama of your surroundings. The common thread is action and effort. It is simple physics; you must put energy into something to effect change. How much effort? Anything over zero will do just fine.

Again and again, I am amazed at how little effort is required to move forward when ones actions are aligned with their values. Conversely, when these values are forgotten, or even worse, when one goes directly against them, the individual deflates and collapses back into confusion, frustration, depression and a host of other undesirable and unproductive states. For leaders, this has significant implications. Strong leaders that I have worked with realize this correlation and make serious efforts to clearly understand who they are, what are their values and how they can integrate them into their work, lives and organizations.

Another thing I have observed is that regardless of the degree of difficulty one faces, a little values-based effort gives them direction, hope and clarity. Creating a regular practice of sorts where daily habits and events support their values moves them into a higher state of joyful achievement. There is a deep sense of satisfaction, regardless of external circumstances or outcomes, knowing they have been true to themselves, backed by effort. Indeed, being true to ones values brings about tremendous energy, enthusiasm and resources—a keen ability to fight the fight with grace, efficiency and integrity.

Values-based action is recession proof, and positions one very strongly when external circumstances improve again. In fact, living ones values with strength, courage and integrity, seems to accelerate the transformation of external events for many of my clients and myself, too.

This is not just magic; there is a clear logic to it. By leaning into our values, we are spending more of our waking day focused on what matters most to us, therefore less on what brings us down. If we look closely, we will realize that our choices around where we put our time and energy all have an external circumstance associated with it. Therefore, we experience more and more positive, values-based, external circumstance in our day. Life literally looks good again. And in that, we come back to the realization of what life is and how important it is to be present and appreciate each precious moment.

OK, it feels good, but what about the road map?

Values have strategy built-into them. Our values are like a long-range guidance system, containing the coordinates of the appropriate target and direction while having the built-in intelligence to course-correct along the way. Values factor-in all the conditions, external and internal, not the least of which is a realistic, customized set of parameters that fits who we are, rather than some generic approach to challenging times.

We have many heroes who have shown us the way, during much more trying times than you or I will ever likely face. Churchill, Gandhi, King, Lincoln: they leaned deeply into their values and experienced all the benefits mentioned above, not the least of which was strategy. A way to move forward efficiently, strategically and powerfully with enough integrity to last for several generations or more. This stuff works. However, we have to work to make it work. It must move from hoping to doing, from complacency to exertion. All the sages of the past have always told us, we must do the work. No one, even a fully enlightened, omniscient being, can do it for us.

So during these difficult economic times, do what you can to uncover your guiding values and do even more to ensure you are living them as much as possible. In fact, when times are hard, it is even more important, so consider making it a top-priority and double your efforts. One simple approach is to list your values and track them each day on a chart, giving yourself a check-mark when you have honored them. An even simpler approach is to identify your top value and double-up your efforts to bring more of it into your life. This alone can change the tide considerably. Remember, any action creates a very different world than no action at all. Small steps on a daily basis is the key. This will create new habits and mindsets that lead to bigger steps quite naturally. And before you know it, there will be a skip in your step again!

Monday, December 1, 2008

Vision Integration: Build Everything Around Purpose

Why do you or your teams do what you do? What is the impact you are aiming for? What is the purpose of it all?

Purpose serves as the divining rod for our application of energy and resources. The more willing we are to "hear" our purpose—our calling—and embrace the power of its simplicity, the sooner we will increase our efficiency, effectiveness and impact. This applies to the individual as well as the organization.

Learning to articulate purpose requires openness, discipline and focus. It also requires support from outsiders such as mentors, consultants, coaches and associates, who help reflect and reveal what is most valued within ourselves. Effective leaders know this, and have mastered the art and discipline of vision integration through humility, self-awareness, perseverance and accountability.

Purpose is extremely pragmatic and strategic. For example, it becomes much easier to detect when actions, projects and investments go "off track," reducing response-time and providing a clearer path of retreat that realigns with purpose. This path also leads back to our core competencies and values, as these are never separate from purpose.

The alternative is a crap-shoot based on swirling and unpredictable shifts in external events and opinion. Remaining ignorant about purpose quickly reveals inefficiencies of scale and application. Ignorance is highly impractical, not to mention wasteful and often painful.

With even a slight amount of faith in the strategic benefits of purpose-driven approaches, one can quickly benefit from its power and efficiency. Where does this faith first appear? In our motivation. An intentional decision to aim—and adjust our aim along the way—at what matters most to us. This requires courage initially, but we quickly gain confidence through experience, noticing that aligning effort and resources around purpose consistently produces rewarding, effective and understandable outcomes, which in-turn further facilitate decisions and distribution of resources. The result is a healthy feedback loop of meaningful integration and positive long-term benefit and impact.