There is no shame in competing values. The problem comes when the conflict in values goes unaddressed. When values compete and no one talks about it, progress stalls and big aspirations remain just that.
Choosing Between Two Values is an Act of Leadership
In When Everyone Leads, Ed O’Malley and Julia Fabris McBride list values clashes among five key barriers to progress on our most important challenges. Unspoken value conflicts fester within a team or silently sabotage stakeholders who say they want to collaborate on a tough challenge. The less forthright we are about acknowledging conflicting values, the bigger a problem they become.
If you are working in a group, it can be an act of leadership to identify competing values and create a trustworthy process, both of which are most critical to a shared vision of success.
In this article though, we are examining choose among competing values through the lens of the leadership competency Manage Self. We’ve all had the experience of values competing in our own minds: I want to drink coffee in the afternoon and sleep well at night. I want to binge-watch Stranger Things and get lots of fresh air this weekend. Again, no shame. Wanting two pleasures at once is human.
But if competing values show up in relation to a challenge I claim to care about, ignoring the internal conflict keeps me from exercising leadership. When it comes to our most important challenges, it is a leadership behavior (an act of self-management) to notice my own competing values and then pause to sort them out.
The Definition of Values
Values in the context of the KLC leadership framework are beliefs (conscious and unconscious, noble and less noble) that drive attitudes, choices and behaviors. Our values reveal themselves through our actions and behaviors.
Choose Among Competing Values – an Example
Too often, comfort competes with other more noble values. We say we want to make progress on a tough challenge but in a pivotal moment we choose ease and status quo.
The author of this blog (Julia Fabris McBride) finds herself facing such a choice. She lives in a rural, sparsely populated county. She has long said she values affordable housing and sees lack of housing as a root of many other tough challenges facing her community. But when a promising funding opportunity arises and requires mobilizing a cross-factional group to work with an out-of-town developer, she hesitates. The work sounds so time-consuming, the risks of alienating neighbors are real and the effort comes with no guarantee of success.
Within the competency of Manage Self, choosing among competing values comes down to this: To lead or not to lead? That is the question.
Make Hard Choices
This leadership behavior, choose among competing values, highlights the grim reality that most of us avoid acts of leadership most of the time. Most of us reflexively place comfort over risk, predictability over progress, status over impact, our own preferences over the good over the group, ease over action. We avoid making hard choices conscious.
Pausing to choose among competing values makes progress a possibility.