Should you hide bad news or tell your team the truth? Someone just said something awful to your peer; what do you do? How much time should you devote to helping your co-worker, especially since you’re so busy yourself?
It’s not always easy to know the “right” thing to do. How we make decisions is based on our values — what we believe to be important in life and what gives us meaning and purpose. When we don’t know our values and don’t put them into practice, encountering these types of questions can become a major source of stress and internal conflict. The good news is that consciously bringing our values into action takes little time; and when we do this, decision-making becomes easier and more beneficial to others.
We make decisions based on our values all the time, but usually we’re not conscious that we’re doing so. It’s easy to stay true to an intuitive sense of integrity when things are calm and peaceful. But when we’re busy, we can lose sight of our values and their importance. For example, if you value family but you don’t spend time with them, how do you feel? Moreover, without a firm understanding of what matters to us in the long run, in times of stress, fear, or insecurity, we can often make decisions based solely on economic realities or short-term, individualistic interests. The result is that we lose a sense of ourselves, and we feel lost and disconnected from what gives us meaning and purpose.
Step 1: Know Your Values
To actively practice your values, you need to know what your values are. What matters most to you? Is it transparency? Trust? Equality? You can probably name a few things off the top of your head that you know you value (or think you should value), but you can get a much deeper understanding of what you value and why by reflecting on key questions. The Exploring Inner Values exercise that we use at Leading Through Connection can help you discover values that you may not have realized are central to how you lead and live.
Once we know what our values are, we can apply them more fully in our lives. I once coached a leader who highly valued being creative, but he found himself in a mostly operational job. He thought that the only way he could be happy was to find a job that allowed him to do something more creative, like design or photography. After reflecting on his values, he discovered that what he really enjoyed was the creativity involved in taking an idea or a nebulous problem and giving it structure. In the ensuing discussion, we discovered many ways he could bring this value to life in his work. He was able to reframe even mundane tasks, such as scheduling group meetings, into creative problems to solve — how could he automate this process in a way that was more efficient for everyone?
Values don’t have to be explicitly tied to work in order for them to be applicable at work. For example, you may value beauty in your life. Knowing this can help you identify ways to bring beauty into your work. Perhaps it’s something as straightforward as bringing art or plants into the office, or maybe it’s acting with grace under pressure.
Step 2: Bring Your Values Into Action using The CLOVE Approach
Knowing our values is the first step. The next is to apply them in everyday life. Thankfully, all that requires is awareness, caring, and action. Using the CLOVE Approach, you can bring your values into action at work even when you don’t have much time or need to make a fast decision.
1. Be Calm and present
In moments of intense emotion or stress, we can easily end up making a decision or saying something that goes against our values. And even when we aren’t stressed, we often act on autopilot, which means we can react to situations before we have a moment to consciously consider our options and the implications of our decisions.
Being present and fully aware in the moment is the first step to acting in alignment with your values. Having a daily meditation practice can be helpful in bringing your mind to a state of awareness. Whether or not you meditate, if you’re calm, carry on. If you’re not, you might want to postpone making a decision in that very moment.
2. Look for your intention
Before jumping into a decision or a meeting, take a moment to reflect on your intention. Your intentions are strongly aligned with your values. Why are you doing this work? How will it help others? You may choose to set a time in the day to map out your intentions. Fidji Simo, VP of product at Facebook, “blocks off between 30 and 60 minutes on her calendar every Monday morning to ensure that her actions are aligned with and supporting her intentions.”
“Being intentional is the ultimate integrity in leadership. It’s stating your values and intentions clearly, then putting your money where your mouth is.” — Fidji Simo, VP of product, Facebook
3. Be Open to your intuition
People have a gut response to most situations. But we often deflect our intuition because it isn’t tangible or quantifiable. It can also be difficult to distinguish between an intuitive insight and an emotion, especially when you’re stressed. However, if you’re present and aware, listening to what your intuition is telling you can be a fast way to tap into your values. There is often a reason why you’re uncomfortable with a certain direction and somehow prefer another. Pay attention to these cues.
“You never have all the information when you’re making hard decisions. It helps to have a practice where you’re used to looking within and getting comfortable with whatever that answer is. I guess it’s easy to say “you trust your gut instinct,” and I basically make every decision that way, but that’s tied to actually having a practice where you’re used to going inside and you feel comfortable.” — Rose Marcario, CEO, Patagonia
4. Consider your Values
Your gut might tell you that you should act, but your values will tell you why. If you’ve taken the time to reflect on your values with tools such as the values exercise, it will be easier to recall them when you need to make a decision. For example, consider the first question at the start of this article: Should you hide bad news or tell your team the truth? If you value transparency, you might decide to share the difficult news with them, even if you don’t know how they might respond.
5. Reflect on your Experience
Context matters. Once you have a sense of your gut response and how your values play a role in your decisions, take a moment to reflect on your experience. How did it feel when your manager hid the truth from you in the past? Alternatively, how did it feel to know that things were not going so well and that perhaps your future at your current job was at risk? Reflecting on your experience is a powerful way of testing your decision.
The bottom line
So should you hide bad news or tell your team the truth? No one can answer that question for you. How you lead depends on the state of your mind, how you feel, your values, and your ability to navigate the context you’re in. If you don’t remember the CLOVE Approach or if you feel that your values conflict with each other, that’s okay. The most important step is to develop a strong intention.
The Fourteenth Dalai Lama advises: “It is important to direct our intelligence with good intentions. Without intelligence, we cannot accomplish very much. Without good intentions, the way we exercise our intelligence may have destructive results.” If you genuinely want to help, the likelihood that you’ll get something good to happen is pretty good.
Uvinie is the CEO of Leading through Connection, an organization born out of Dalai Lama Fellows that trains leaders to deepen their capacity to relate to others at work. She spent a decade leading teams in the corporate sector, and frequently speaks at conferences on how a connective mindset is essential for leadership. In her spare time, she enjoys translating ancient mind-training practices into practical, modern-day tools. She holds an MPH from Harvard and a BA in neurobiology from Cornell.