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Values have value

In the first months of a new year, I often talk to managers about their personal values: deeply held beliefs about what is really important to you.

Life stories are shared and together we explore how life has shaped them. What personal values have they developed from their life history? Their upbringing, life events, important key figures in life… What did they learn about taking charge, dealing with conflict, caring for others, taking risks?

Invariably, people say they give little thought to this. For some, it is even the first time…

Sometimes the question pops up: “What is actually the point of days like this?” How does sharing your life story help you as a manager? Apart from strengthening the mutual bond with the other group members, it is very personal, at times confrontational and sometimes quite emotional. In short, is it worth all that effort? Doesn't it take a lot of time, which would be better spent on interesting, modern leadership theories and models and personal cases? As a manager, does it really benefit you to dig into your life history? Aren't these things you should discuss with your therapist?

You are your most important tool…

Drawing your personal values (deeply rooted beliefs about what is really important to you) from your life story actually means re-evaluating your life: giving it positive meaning. Seeing your life and yourself with 'new' eyes. Instead of focusing, as we tend to do, on what should be different, you focus on what valuable aspects are already present in you. On what you have learned and developed thanks to that potentially challenging or difficult childhood. You see more clearly what is essential to you, what tone you want to set and what possibilities you have to do so. You realise even more deeply what you want to contribute as a leader and in what way. You can see better what helps you in this, but also where you are more likely to get in your own way. You gain more insight into how best to nurture and give space to your valuable potential. It gives many managers renewed self-confidence and also a compass that helps them navigate difficult choices.

An* was very touched when she re-read her list of personal values specified by the group. It gave her a sense of amazement: “Am I really all of this?” And at the same time, she noticed that it knocked out her 'inner critic', so to speak. Since then, she has been very consciously trying to specify and live up to her personal values with her team. She finds that it also helps her people act more confidently in meetings.

For Jan*, 'trust' turned out to be one of his 3 most important personal values. He was quite nervous to see whether his team noticed that. Fortunately, that turned out to be the case. His team felt that with him, you 'know what you are getting', felt a low barrier and always saw the 'person behind the results'. For Jan, it was reassuring and encouraging that he apparently managed to live by this value. When asked what other personal values he wanted to express more, he indicated that they were often lame excuses that held him back from living by them and which he could now tackle more effectively. The experience with his personal values made him feel more capable of not always waiting too long, but daring to take action faster.

(* due to privacy of participants, both names are fictitious)

The value for your team

I also encourage leaders to testify to their team about their personal values. In my experience, if they dare, because it can also feel quite vulnerable, they become incredibly inspiring to their people. Their life wisdom, perseverance, ambition, their will to learn from setbacks, their desire to contribute, then becomes so palpable that it touches, inspires and encourages. It sets a lot in motion amongst their team. It encourages their team to also fulfil their aspirations, contribute in their own way and take up personal leadership.

And there is even more value to this story: I have guided teams that, based on everyone's personal values, developed a shared vision for the future. Who together determined and formulated “What we care about together, what we want to achieve together!”. They shaped what they wanted to stand for together, what value they wanted to add as a team, for the organisation and its customers. Time and again, it gave a huge boost to team spirit and freed up energy to stay motivated at work in the day-to-day hustle and bustle, highly recommended!

Your life story limits your leadership?

Is your life history now 'all defining' so that everything is now fixed? A fair and essential question that a manager recently came up with.

I have heard many life stories in recent years. Very touching, special, inspiring stories and yes, there was often sadness, lots of difficult and painful things that came up. So it wouldn’t be right to only highlight the beautiful side of it. Many people go through bad, sad, sometimes terrible things. As a listener, it makes you humble, moved, grateful, but sometimes angry, indignant and sad.

So is your youth really that defining and limiting? Have you been lucky or unlucky and do you carry that with you for the rest of your life? And again: does it make sense to dwell on that? Except for the fact that it upsets you, while you felt so good before the session. What is the point of that and will it really make you a better manager?

In any case, it makes you more aware. Because if you are not aware of what patterns you have developed in your life, you often repeat them unconsciously. If you are not aware of it, you don’t have the opportunity to grow further in your leadership. You then deprive yourself of the opportunity to 'know yourself as an instrument'. To know what triggers you, what irritates you or makes you insecure, causing you to react differently than you would like. Which leaves you with less impact than you could have.

Yes, it can be intense and painful to realise your life history and its effect or you, on how you are doing as a manager. But at the same time, it is often also a gift, that you finally realise it.

When I got the feedback that my highly persuasive style was probably very similar to how my very authoritarian father always dealt with us, I didn't like hearing that, to put it mildly. It did subsequently become the driving force behind my desire to let people discover for themselves what and who they want to be. And also to try to stop arguing or trying to give persuasive advice.

Are you ready to see yourself with 'new eyes' for a change? And would you like to experience and harness the power and wisdom of a group in doing so? Then contact me for an intake. Together we can explore which personal values you want to live up to more and how I can help you do so.


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