What Do You Stand For?

What do you stand for?

This may be the most important question any of us will answer in our lifetimes. It is even more critical for leaders to be “in” this question. We make a basic distinction between beliefs and values. For our purposes, beliefs are ideas that you support. Beliefs do not necessitate action. Values, on the other hand, are behavioral in the sense that our actions are aligned to them. We make a further distinction between stated values, and lived values. In truth, stated values are really just beliefs. What we actually value is on full display in our actions. And thus those things for which we will take a stand.

Knowing your personal answer to this question has always been important, and is becoming increasingly more important. As complexity and uncertainty increase their hold on our organizations and leaders, having a very clear sense of our values and stances serve as a simplifying (coalescing) force. Roy Disney (Walt’s older brother) is often credited with saying that “decisions are easy when values are clear.” One insidious aspect of complex environments is that the relationship between cause and effect (prediction essentially) is compromised. As that relationship frays, being clear about what we value may be our only way forward. This is true for both an individual leader and for an organization. We call an organization’s values it’s culture.

The source of integrity is found in knowing what you stand for, saying what you stand for, and then taking a stand for it (and sometimes telling others that you took that stand). Of course, sometimes your values and stances may be in conflict. In this case, you have the opportunity to study your own thinking and refine your sense of values. And you may find that an explanation to others is needed.

Finally, organizations have adapted to complexity through principles of self-organization. It is well known that complex adaptive systems are able to adjust to external inputs, but without external guidance. The trick is that these systems self-organize around fields. In an organization, fields might be strategies, vision, culture, etc. but always includes values. A key contribution of the leader is to make values clear and demonstrated. Others will organize in ways that support those values.

Most leaders are personally familiar with the demands of an increasingly complex environment. The nature of complexity is to feel overwhelmed. While there are many coping strategies, clear values and a clear answer to the question “what am I willing to take a stand for” is a very smart way into more powerful leadership AND creating space in complexity.

We ask again – what are you willing to take a stand for?