Our Values Shape Our Character and Culture

Dr. Purushothaman
December 13, 2013

"Principles are to people what roots are to trees. Without roots, trees fall when they are thrashed with the winds of the pampas. Without principles, people fall when they are shaken by the gales of existence." â€" Carlos Reyles, 19th century Spanish author

When he spotted his grandpa asleep on the family room couch, the rambunctious ten year old saw his chance. With cat-like stealth, Jason quietly crept up on grandpa and gently smeared a small bit of smelly old cheese into his moustache. As grandpa mumbled and stirred, Jason bolted from the room. Peeking around the corner, Jason fought it hard to contain himself as he watched grandpa open his eyes and take a sniff of the air. "Whew! This room stinks", grandpa exclaimed. Rising from the couch he went into the front hall. "Why, the whole house stinks", grandpa declared as he went out the front door into the yard. Watching grandpa take a few deep whiffs of the air, Jason lost it. He burst out laughing as grandpa bellowed, "Everything stinks."

Our principles, values, or beliefs are the lens through which we see the world. We then find the evidence and examples to prove our point of view. If our behavior sometimes smells a little â€" we cheat, cut ethical corners, or "stretch the truth" â€" we assume (and often justify our behavior with) "everybody else is doing it." Then we notice just how many other people are doing the same â€" their behavior stinks.

If people with this mindset become managers, he or she will build on his or her assumptions and experiences by putting rules and practices in place to catch the "stinkers." As psychologist and personal effectiveness coach, Peter Jensen, puts it, "Most of what we see in others is what we project from ourselves."

"Visions are values projected into the future" â€" Leland Kaiser, futurist

As with our visions or pictures of the future, every organization, team, and person has a set of principles, beliefs, or values. And whether they're optimistic or pessimistic or filled with hopefulness or helplessness, we "magnetize" and pull those same people and circumstances toward us. What we get is what we are.

Visions and values are an inseparable matched set. One grows from and in turn spawns the other. Both provide the basis for the skills we choose to develop, time we choose to invest, and the improvement systems, processes, and habits we choose to use. Yesterday's vision and values have formed our personal character and â€" when taken collectively â€" the team or organization culture we have today.

The vision and values we choose to fix in our minds today determines tomorrow's character and culture. We start to change who we're becoming and where we're headed when we change what we value and picture in our future.

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