Understanding the true nature of a leadership role requires a clear understanding of values. The basic concept of values involves beliefs about what is most important. Values are a critical ingredient for most of our decision-making, big and small. For example, think of the last food you ate: How did you decide what to eat, and who to eat with? If you prioritize long-term health over living in the moment, you may have chosen carrot sticks rather than curly fries. If you value your personal space, you may have eaten alone; but if you place greater value on being with others, maybe you found company. Of course, values help us with much weightier problems as well.
Personal values are the most central to your sense of who you are as an individual. They are shaped by your experiences growing up, especially by your primary caregivers as well as any other people who had a lot of influence over your life. At their core, personal values provide guidance about the most complex and difficult of life’s problems, including the meaning of our lives in the face of our inevitable mortality.
Professional values are different to this. While values differ from profession to profession, some of these distinctions are based more on differences in language than actual differences in the values themselves.
As with people and professions, organizations also have their own values, as well as their own belief systems. These beliefs describe why the organization exists, what it hopes to accomplish, and how its members should approach their work. Within health systems, these values are frequently encoded as a set of five to seven words or short phrases, often assembled into an easy-to-remember acronym. They may also be formulated into a set of explicit ethical standards, or behavioral descriptions. They are often taught to new employees as part of an initial orientation process and may feature prominently in employee recognition programs.
Individuals, professions, and organizations differ in the extent to which they emphasize existing standards versus trying new things, to some degree reflecting their relative age and maturity. When a profession is newer, there may be less experience and science to draw on for guidance, so more of the work needs to be guided by an individual’s experience and discretion. However, as more collective experience is gained as to what works, there will be less perceived advantage - and greater perceived risk - in ignoring a proven strategy on the chance that an unproven one may perform better.
Leadership roles typically require working with people to balance their competing interests and managing the values conflicts they represent. Success in managing these conflicts in others begins with successfully understanding and managing your own internal ones.