Don’t Just Let Things Slide: 6 Ways To Align Your Career With Your Values

Faucet and water drop on white background

“We are defined by what we tolerate.” 

When Marilyn Carlson Nelson, former CEO of Carlson, the large travel and hospitality company, said this to her executive team, they immediately knew it was true. The moment, as described in Bob Anderson and Bill Adams’ wonky but powerful book, Mastering Leadership, was a wake-up call for the team. It led them to engage in some needed candid and difficult conversations to confront challenges in the company’s performance and culture. The CEO knows that companies are defined not so much by the values they aspire to and promote but by the behaviors, attitudes and performance that they allow to persist in their organization. If your company claims to value openness and honesty and at the same time tolerates rampant gossip and back-channel communication, its culture is defined not by its lofty aspiration but by the behavior that goes unchallenged. And if a team espouses excellence while failing to hold its members accountable for mediocre performance, guess what the results will be?

What is true of organizations is also true of individuals. Our careers, relationships and lives are defined at least in part by what we let slide. When we tolerate behavior in ourselves or others that doesn’t live up to our aspirations, we live with those results. Sometimes the things you tolerate are big things—a job you hate or an unkind partner—and the effect on your happiness and fulfillment can be devastating. Other tolerations may be smaller frictions that, like a leaky faucet drip-drip-dripping, can sap your energy. If this sounds familiar, try the following exercise to align your on-the-ground reality with your aspirations:

  • Know your values. Start by clearly articulating your core values. What are the principles or qualities that give your life meaning? Remember that your values need to come from who you are, not what other people think you should be. Make a list of your top 10. This is what you aspire to. This is you at your best.
  • Make them concrete. Values are just ideas unless you act on them. Consider how your values show up at work or in your relationships. What behaviors demonstrate your values and which behaviors are at odds with your values?
  • Take inventory. For each value, rate how well your behavior aligns with your values. For example, if you value health but you never make time to exercise, your behavior violates your value. How well does the culture around you align with your values? Identify places where you are tolerating dissonance in yourself or others.
  • Assess what is in your control or influence. It is important to identify the areas that are within your power to change and where you might. be able to influence others. If you value integrity but you put up a façade at work because you are afraid that you won’t be accepted, you may be faced with a choice. You may not be able to change the culture of your workplace, but you can speak up and advocate for your values—and you may see incremental change. Alternatively, you may decide to look for another job.
  • Commit to action (and mindset). Choose one area of dissonance that you are tolerating and are motivated to change. Identify one behavior change that you are committed to. Remember that behavior change often requires a shift in your way of thinking.
  • Find an ally. Life is a team sport, and you can’t do it alone. Seek out other like-minded people to help you make a desired change. Take advantage of social contagion and hang out with friends and co-workers who engage in your target behavior. Or find an accountability buddy to help keep you on track.

For managers and leaders, you can do a version of this exercise with teams as well. It can be a great way to engage and build connection, motivate change and improve collective performance.

[“source=forbes”]