The Values that Drive Our Behavior

In 1661, Frances Hawkins wrote a book, Youth’s Behavior, Or, Decencie in Conversation Among Men.

It was popular as a text in the education of young men.  Notably among them was George Washington, the “Father of our Country”, who, as a youth, copied Hawkins’ 110 guidelines for maintaining respect and civility towards others for a successful life. This document still survives in the Library of Congress.

It is assumed, for which there is evidence, that Washington attuned his conduct, personally and professionally, by these guidelines throughout life.

Some 360 years later many of these guidelines are still as poignant as ever, such as…  

1. Every action done in Company ought be with some Sign of Respect to those  present.”
“22. Show not yourself glad at the Misfortune of another, though he were your enemy

Reminiscent of the speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King, we are reminded this week to fully respect one another and value the content of character in each other.

These are historical representations of what we, Momentum Consulting,  refer to as “Fundamentals”, which represent the bones of building performance into Cultures or guiding one’s behavior. 

Here at Momentum we have 26 Fundamentals, which we blog about weekly. Today, as in Washington’s day, these are guidelines for effective behavior.  Remember: behavior drives performance.  Washington did well with his performance, historically speaking!

As individuals, we also have a set of drivers for our behavior that are often hidden from us, which we call our personal Core Values. Although often undetected, they are the “wizard behind the curtain”, moving us through life. Surprisingly, little is written about these.  There is a lot written about company Core Values, much like vision, mission, and purpose, but not our own… which are very different.

In business, leaders of the organizations typically sit in a room and make these “Core Values” up, publish them, and often do a disappointing job attuning their organization to living them, or operating according to what they wrote.

On the other hand…

Our personal Core Values, emerging in early life, live us! 

I think one of the reasons organizations find difficulty in living vision, mission, and purpose, is that they are often focused on shareholder value, maximization of profit, growth, etc.  These are important, yes! However rather than be the drivers of purpose, I see them as the scorecard on the values we live in conducting business. 

As mentioned before in these blogs, John Mackey and his work in Conscious Capitalism is a great example of letting your values guide your business, and letting profit, growth and brand be the scorecard of how we are doing.

Over a couple of decades of consulting, we have had this conversation around personal CoreValues with thousands of people.  Our accumulation of experience suggests the following.  

  • Core Values are fundamental to us, 
  • They get formed pretty early in life,
  • We only have a handful, maybe 4, 5 or 6 
  • They are non-negotiable 
  • Unlike many of our other values, they are anchored to us for life.
  • They strongly affect our judgments, opinions and perceptions and how we see life. 

To be sure, we may have a lot of values in life and many can change over our lifetime. Often we find we can compromise for the benefit of a situation or someone. 

However, compromising our Core Values, real or perceived, either by ourselves or another, will cause suffering.  And as a very astute client recently reminded his team, “suffering is optional.”  It was a good reminder for us as well.

As has often been characterized, “in life, s**t happens!” 

Usually, our reaction to these frequent unexpected and unfortunate situations guides our response, i.e. the proverbial “fight or flight” response.

What if, in those moments, we were tuned into both our Core Values and our ability to choose our response, and we allowed our Core Values to make the choice?  How might that change our life and what we accomplish?

First, it would require a genuine awareness of our Core Values, as well as how much they influence us.  For example, if I have a strong judgment of someone, and recognized it was the result of a perceived Core Value violation, it opens a portal to a new conversation with the person to see if my judgment was a reaction. Thus, a whole new relationship becomes possible there. 

I recently read Jeremy Suri’s excellent book, “The Impossible Presidency.”

Suri chronicles the entire history of the Office of the President, starting with Washington, highlighting historically regarded Presidents such as Washington, Lincoln, Jackson, and the Roosevelts, and how each changed and shaped the reach and authority of the office. 

Starting somewhere in the 60’s, the demands of the office became increasingly difficult to manage, even by the best of leaders. This effect driven by:

  • The promises made to get into office, 
  • The expectations of the electorate, 
  • The stinging demands of interest groups and money contributors, 
  • The acrimony of the opposition 

These all led to pretty much eliminating any effort to fulfill on the desires and visions held, and left them in a swirl of constant reactions to an increasingly complex world.  The demanding schedule, and the constant bombardment of demands and needs, left the President no time for strategic thinking, contemplation, or even to identify in which issues he should be involved.  In other words, we have an “Impossible Presidency”. constrained from the ability to lead. 

How much of our own lives look like that to us?

If our performance is shaped by behavior and our behavior is shaped by our personal Core Values, how might our lives, our ability to lead, or our management to accomplish goals change if we were tuned into and guided by our Core Values? Those early Presidents mentioned above, had the room to do that, in different, yet nonetheless still very complex times.  

What they accomplished is testimony of what might be possible when my life is guided by the values core to me, and I am dancing to the music of life they orchestrate. 

By the way, this is the heart of the conversation of our 3rd Annual Leadership Conference, February 14th. If this strikes a chord with you, please join us.

Meanwhile, great sharing with you, as always,

Cheers and Blessings,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *