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Values Matter


In his 2015 State of the Union address, President Obama spoke about how values are “the pillar of our leadership.”   At Saint Mary’s College, we concur, and believe attention to our highest values plays a unique and crucial role in developing our leadership potential.

In a world with ever-shifting borders and an unprecedented number of generations living simultaneously, understanding, engaging and having compassion for the underlying values (Hall, 2006) and associated mindsets of people is crucial for collaboration, leadership development and global citizenship.  We have identified six key benefits to exploring one’s values.  Understanding our values helps:

  1. provide a roadmap for leadership development
  2. bring language to our highest aspirations
  3. create a measurement tool for tracking our progress
  4. foster compassion via knowing ourselves and others more fully
  5. shine healing attention on the unconscious blocks that can hold us back, and
  6. connect to our vision values and move us into more effective action on what matters most to us.  

Brian Hall, pioneering author and founder of Values Technology, describes values as “the ideals that shape and give significance to our lives…. manifested in the priorities we choose, the decisions we make and the actions we take” (Hall, 2006, p. 21).  Hall estimated that most of us are only dimly aware of the myriad values that are driving our decisions and actions in the world.  Hall’s work over four decades explored how our values represent the building blocks of our mindsets, and how we can use knowledge of our values to grow and develop our capacity for more open and permeable leadership across differences.  Shifting our values priorities results in a shift in mindset.

Research has been making the point that understanding our values is essential.  In the January 2008 leadership issue of Harvard Business Review, faculty member Rosabeth Moss Kanter asks the question, “What enables a [global] business to be agile?” (p. 43).  She interviewed 350 leaders from 5 continents about what makes them successful in a global organization.  She reports,

The key… is that a decisive shift is occurring in what might be called the guidance systems of these global giants.  Employees once acted mainly according to rules and decisions handed down to them, but they now draw heavily on shared understanding of mission….  Authority is still exercised and activities are still coordinated – but thanks to common platforms, standardized processes, and, above all, widely shared values (italics added)…, coherence now arises more spontaneously. (p. 44)

Kanter (2008) goes on to say that “Values turn out to be the key ingredient in the most vibrant and successful of today’s multinationals” (p. 45).  However, people increasingly talk about the importance of values without having any systematic or measurable way to understand the terrain of values and how to work with them for change.  This is where Hall’s (2006) remarkable values technology comes in, as he created an instrument that defines and measures 125 distinct human values, ranging from “Food/Warmth/Shelter” to “Global Harmony” across all cultures and human development (p. 225).  As people continue to move from the hierarchical and problem-solving world of the past, as characterized by the industrial revolution, Hall (2006) explains:

[W]e begin to develop an independent sense of ourselves….  to honor our own judgment rather than trust the correctness of the rules and regulations….  This is the phase where we begin to be self-initiating….  [With this new leadership mindset] the world is a creative project in which I want to participate….  Authority is viewed as coming from within ourselves. (p. 54)

Whether we are young and contemplating our upcoming prospects, or more seasoned in our career path, knowledge of the values that are pulling us into the future help give meaning and purpose to our lives.  A recent article in the New York Times on retirement asks, “how do you find meaning, identity and purpose in the remaining years of your life?” and the response included, “re-examination of… core values.”

Many of us are hearing the call for more conscious leadership for global change and understand the need to think differently and develop a more global mindset.  In practice, making these changes is difficult at best.  In 2011, the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) released a report titled, “Future Trends in Leadership” (CCL) which focused on four crucial themes:  

  1. Need for more self-initiating development that is owned by the individual;
  2. Need to go beyond building leadership skills/competencies and work to transform mindsets;
  3. Need more emphasis on collaborative/shared leadership;
  4. Greater focus needed on innovation and creativity to deal with “wicked” adaptive challenges. (Petrie, 2011, p. 3)

Understanding the values that drive our behavior and making more conscious decisions about our individual and group priorities and vision is an exploration that supports attention to all four of these important “future trends” of leadership.

Values are important, and the question remains, how do we work with values to support individual, team, community, organization and global contexts for more effective leadership?  What are some of your highest values, and how might you take action on them this week?  How might you articulate those values to another person?  Visit our Leadership Center website for more resources about values, coaching and leadership.



Hall, B. P. (1994, 2006). Values shift: A guide to personal and organizational transformation. Rockport, MA: Twin Light Publishers.

Kanter, R.M. (2008). Transforming Giants. In Harvard Business Review, January, pp. 44-54.  

Obama, B. (2015). State of the Union Address. Retrieved January 31, 2015, from

Petrie, Nick (2011). Future trends in leadership developmentCenter for Creative Leadership White Paper Series.

Values Matter image courtesy of Whole Foods Markets

Have Peace for the World image courtesy Doug Paxton

About Doug Paxton, Ph.D.

Doug Paxton, Ph.D.
Doug Paxton is a learner, educator, writer, and artist who is passionate about what humanity has to learn from reconnecting to our values and the natural world. Doug is Co-Director of the Leadership Center at Saint Mary’s College and faculty in the MA in Leadership program, currently focusing his teaching in the area of Values in Action, Leadership and Sustainable Organizational Change.

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