We talk a lot about how important it is to identify our personal and corporate values. We begin every strategic planning process by identifying those beliefs we all share — what is good and necessary to create a healthy future for our organization or business. The values list often includes honesty, open communications, trust, competence, innovation, consistency, but what does it really mean for something to be of value?
A value is something we would pay for and something we do. If we wouldn’t pay for it–with our money, time, or labor–then it really has no value to us and cannot be one of our values. And, if we don’t do it, if we don’t practice it, it is not a value. How can we say something is of great value and then ignore it in our own life? I will admit, for a time, a value could be an aspiration. We see it in others and wish it for ourselves. But eventually we need to start doing it for it to be our value and not just that of someone we admire.
While all of this is important, I think we may be missing the point. Before we begin identifying those things we see as having values, like honesty, consistency, or competence, we must first see ourselves as being someone of value. In other words, do we have value that is inherent, that is created within us?
What I mean by this kind of value is the belief that we matter, that all people matter, that there is something within each of us that has the potential of bringing good things to our human journey. Some have called this sense of value self-worth or identity. Not a self-worth or identity that is dependent on what we do or based upon what someone else says, but a sense of self-worth that comes from just being a human being.
The problem comes when we become convinced that somehow we are better–or worse–than others. We make acceptance of others–and of ourselves–dependent on some performance standard rather than on a belief that all are created equal, and in my view created for good work.
If you believe people, yourself included, only have worth because of what they do, then you are in real trouble. If you need someone else to tell you you are okay, you will never be truly free to live a life of real virtue or value. You will always be checking in with others to see if you are okay.
Identifying shared values is important, but recognizing each individual member as having intrinsic value apart from works is the step that must be taken first. When we believe each person, ourselves included, has value, then and only then we can start building each other up in order to start living lives of great value.
“Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” Matthew 6:26 (NASB)
Without a sense of value or self-worth you will never be able to live a life that adds value. What you think about the individual value or worth of yourself and of others is perhaps the most important predictor of how you will lead.