Sunday, November 29, 2009

Coaching Lessons: Living Your Values

Using Peter Drucker's concept of self-management I have begun to outline the coaching process. For Drucker's article, link here.

In my first post I discussed how an individual should begin by discovering his superskills. It is easier and more interesting to go from good to great than from poor to mediocre. Before choosing a direction in life, and before articulating goals and aspirations, you need to know what you are good at. Link here.

In the second post I followed Drucker's article in recommending that once you discover what you are good at you need to know how best to perform. Where therapy wants you to understand why you cannot perform, coaching wants you to perform at your best. Link here.

Both of these posts concerned you as an individual. The next step starts bringing you into contact with a group...whether a company or a team or bureaucracy. It raises the issue of how you can best choose your voluntary associations?

For Drucker this raises the question of values. You should only join groups whose values harmonize with yours.

This is a very fuzzy issue. Are we talking about the values that pertain to sacred or profane institutions? Religious people follow dietary restrictions because of their values. Which means, following the group's moral precepts. Presumably, doing so will enhance your spirituality and bring you closer to the sacred.

Peter Drucker has a rather different notion of values. A company's values may define its goals in terms of short-term profits or long term viability. Some companies want to make a lot of money quickly; others want to make a solid but reliable income over a long period of time.

For Drucker these types of companies have different values.

Some corporate cultures dictate that executives be promoted from within. Others prefer to bring in new people from outside. For Drucker this is a values-based distinction.

These issues concern corporate culture and strategy. Clearly, if you believe that good business practice involves creating a harmonious work environment you will not want to work at a company that sounds like the Salomon Bros. bond trading floor, as portrayed by Michael Lewis in "Liar's Poker."

I find Drucker's sense of values limited, however. Let's take it a step further and ask: What kind of work do you value? Knowing that you are good with numbers opens a myriad of possible career options. Choosing one from the others will engage your values.

Some people value commerce and finance; others find greater value in charity work; still others believe that the highest value lies in professions like medicine and teaching.

But these are not the only considerations. You also need to ask: What kind of work does the culture value?

Your self-esteem depends more on which groups you choose to join than in how many times you can tell yourself you are a wonderful person.

Clearly, cultures place different values on different occupations and professions. I would even say that cultures create a hierarchy of values. It values some work more than others.

You can tell by seeing how much prestige and compensation the culture grants to different professions.

Everyone believes that teaching is a noble profession. You may believe that your personal values can only be fulfilled by teaching children.

Yet, our society does not grant very much compensation or prestige to teachers. To teach is to make sacrifices. As our culture sees it, teaching is more a sacred calling than a way of participating in the world's business.

Some professions grant more prestige than monetary compensation. Soldiers and diplomats are not very well paid, but they are certainly high-prestige occupations.

And some occupations grant their practitioners great monetary rewards and high social prestige. Until recently bankers and financiers have fallen into this category. Lately, of course, many of them have lost their jobs and much of their prestige in the market crash.

When we arrive at the world of celebrity, we find successful entertainers being very well compensated, but, lacking in either prestige or respect.

Yet, great success in the entertainment field is only granted to very, very few aspirants. Most people who want to become artists and entertainers gain neither fortune nor prestige.

All of which means that you are not the sole arbiter of your value to society. All groups have a hierarchy of values; they reward some kinds of work more than others.

If your values involve being financially comfortable and highly respected in your community, this will direct you toward some professions and away from some others.

If respect and prestige are more important than money you might decide to work for a company or in a profession that does not pay very well but that does induce people to speak of you with awe. Exercising political power falls within this category.

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