Saturday 13 February 2016

Thinking about Values

Lots of things have been prompting me to think about values and their relation to the work we do. We had a fascinating day in Cardiff recently looking at what it might mean to be a values-led Institution, informed by two of their philosophers, and also a guest speaker from Findhorn; but mainly drawing on the collective wisdom of the assembled academic and professional staff.  I have also been working with Winchester University on a similar agenda; as well as writing about my own practice for my ILM Diploma assignment; and most recently discussing possible futures for the SAgE Faculty at Newcastle, including the underlying principles of any strategy.

Thinking about all of these, I have not been able to come up with anything more potent and relevant for my own business than the classic articulation of Christian philosophy, building on Greek philosophy. That is, I see my business as being founded on the three pillars of faith, hope and charity, and run (as best I can) with prudence, justice, fortitude and temperance. 

Clearly, as I am a Christian, each of these has a supernatural meaning for me. But they also have a very definite here-and-now aspect, which I think is relevant to people of all belief systems, including agnostic or atheist ones.

Faith, in that sense, I associate very much with Viktor Frankl's insights on the importance of meaning (see here for more of my reflections on Frankl, and here for an external summary of his life and work). One of the things I do when I am working at my best is help people to find meaning in what they are doing and experiencing, and thus the belief that it is of worth and value (or if not, the belief that it is worth addressing that issue!).

Hope is foundational to my work. More than once, I have received unprompted the feedback that what I help people to do is to discover or re-kindle hope, and how powerful that is. That hope may be built on the realisation that we really can make a difference, that we can make the future better for ourselves and for others, and that however dreadful a situation one finds oneself in, our response to that, and to that extent our future, is open for us to influence: which of course links back to Frankl's work.

Charity is an orientation to the good of other people: seeking to do things for the benefit of others, and avoid things that will be against their best interests. First of all, do no harm... Again, I seek both to live like this, and to help others to do so. A lot of my work with conflict and negotiation is about seeking to get people to understand the perspective of their adversary; and that includes ceasing to view them as an adversary, but as a human being with rights and good intentions and good will.

Prudence, I think, has a bad press. I see it as being about taking courageous decisions, whilst avoiding being reckless. Again, that is something I strive to do myself, but most often see with admiration, and sometimes awe, in my clients. 

Justice is widely recognised as one of the fundamental values to which most organisations commit, and it is very clear that if employees, for example, sense inequity in their treatment, that is very bad for the organisation. Increasingly, organisations are looking beyond internal equity and adopting programmes of corporate social responsibility, to spread justice further afield. In the case of my business, that results in both directors giving significant time on a regular basis to a number of charities.

Fortitude is a virtue that I associate particularly with tenacity and with the courage to tell the truth, even when it is difficult or feels disadvantageous to do so. Again, these are values I strive to honour, but would have to declare them to be work in progress.

Temperance is another misunderstood virtue, in my view. It is the virtue of appropriate moderation. It curbs greed, arrogance and excess. That includes excessive value placed on work activities at the expense of all the other human activities which have a claim on us (our responsibilities to our families and friends, for example) or which would be good for us (such as staying fit). Thus it is closely associated in my thinking with that integration that is at the heart of work/life balance. 

I realise, as I write this, that I am setting a high bar; so I invite those who know me to hold me to these aspirational values, and to let me know each time I fall short of them. Only by constantly working towards them, I think, will I be able to run the business that I want to run.

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