Archive for values

What else matters?

If you have integrity, nothing else matters. If you don’t have integrity, nothing else matters. — Alan K. Simpson

Like you, I’ve read a lot of books on leadership, self-development, team building, relationships, success, and general happiness. Like you, I read a fair number of blogs, and follow a generous number of smart coaches and thinkers on Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms. And I’d say this word integrity comes up frequently, whether in a question, as in: “What does integrity mean to you?” or “Is it important for leaders to have integrity and why?”, or in a list, as in: “Top 5 Success Criteria”, or in combination with other qualities or skills in a discussion such as: “How to Communicate More Effectively.”

What I don’t often see is a discussion of how to build and maintain integrity. So here’s my primer on how to begin.

Integrity is often confused with honesty. While these two concepts are very similar, there are some important differences. Let’s start by looking at the definitions of both integrity and honesty from

in·teg·ri·ty [in-teg-ri-tee] (noun)

1. adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty
2. the state of being whole, entire, or undiminished

hon·es·ty [on-uh-stee] (noun)

1. the quality or fact of being honest; uprightness and fairness
2. truthfulness, sincerity, or frankness
3. freedom from deceit or fraud

Notice that the emphasis in honesty is to be truthful and free from deceit. This is an important aspect of integrity (see the first definition of integrity). But it is only a part of the picture. The emphasis in integrity is on adherence to ethical principles (which includes honesty) and maintaining wholeness.

Notice that the definition of integrity doesn’t list which principles. This is why there can be discussions on LinkedIn that go on for weeks about the meaning of integrity. Not everyone agrees on which ethical principles are the ones that should be upheld without exception — or whether there should even be exceptions in certain cases. That decision of exceptions, in itself, is an ethical decision based on principles.

The adoption and commitment to ethical principles is a very personal decision. We’re talking about values. Some of those values we claim to share in the United States: freedom to pursue certain activities, or freedom from certain political oppressions, for example. And even those freedoms are hotly debated — how much freedom, for whom, under what circumstances, to what end, and so on. Many of those values we disagree on: Is happiness more important than wisdom? Authenticity? Family? Love? God? Kindness? Fairness?

If I asked you to name your top five values — the ones that guide your life, your decisions, that you do not compromise — could you list them right now, without hesitation? This is an important question to consider because without clarity in regard to our values, living with and in integrity is very difficult. How can you know you are adhering to moral and ethical principles if you don’t know what those principles are? How do you know your character is sound? You might say, “Well, I know I’m not going to go out and kill anyone.” Well, sure, but that situation is likely not causing you a lot of conflict on a daily basis either. It’s not very likely testing your integrity. You are much more likely in conflict about something like one of the below:

  • Are you justifying a small cheat on your taxes, counting on the odds to keep you from getting caught?
  • Are you engaging in a safe flirtation behind the back of your significant other, knowing that they would be very upset and/or hurt if they found out?
  • Are you spending way too much time surfing the internet at work, taking longer lunches than you should, coming in late, leaving early, using sick time instead of vacation, or in some other way cheating your employer of the time and attention they are paying you for?
  • Have you been putting off having a difficult conversation with an employee, child, significant other, friend, or other family member because you just don’t want to deal with the issue?
  • Are you eating, drinking, sleeping, spending, or smoking too much, and justifying it in some way because you don’t want to face some difficult reality in your life?
  • Have you been pushing that same pile of paper around your desk for weeks on end because you would rather do something other than sit down and deal with the filing, task, project, person, problem, decision, or question?

If you started feeling uncomfortable and answered “yes”, “maybe”, or even started justifying a “no” answer to any of the above, you might want to take an honest look at your actions in light of your values. If you easily and honestly answered “no” to every question, OR if you answered “yes” but honestly do not feel any conflict at all, you are likely not challenged by the examples above. No matter what your answers were, looking at your values can be a very empowering and enlightening exercise. Getting clarity about values ensures that we are living with integrity, regardless of how others define their values.Clarify your values by writing them down — no more than five for best results, because you can’t truly dedicate yourself to more than roughly five core principles at a time with great energy and purpose — and then consciously choose actions that align with those values. When you find yourself in conflict, consider your values — your ethical principles — and choose the option that keeps you whole in light of those principles.

Clarifying values so we can live with integrity is certainly not magical and won’t resolve all conflicts or solve all problems — personal or interpersonal, but it is a great place to start. It is also a great starting place for resolving communication conflicts, teamwork issues, and leadership, relationship, and parenting challenges. When we understand others’ values, we can support them in living in integrity just as we ask for their support in helping us do the same.

There may be a lot of things that are important, and your list of core values may not include integrity. But if we stand back and take a global view, considering the overall impact of living in integrity, the quote above begins to beg the question: What else could matter more?

How We Know What We Know by Michelle Kunz

Most of what we know is someone’s opinion. In fact, most of what we know is someone else’s opinion. I’m reading a fascinating biography on Mary Queen of Scots and although the author is a well known English historian and has researched her subject thoroughly, most of what she writes is her interpretation of what few unarguable facts remain of her subject’s life. It turns out most of modern life works the same way. Unless we are subject matter experts in a pure science such as mathematics or biology, most of what we know is our own or someone else’s opinion. We give lip service to innovation, but we have no idea how to begin with something as simple as innovating how we know what we know.

This applies most basically and most powerfully to the questions of who we are and why we do what we do. Most of us define who we are in terms of our current and past roles. “I am business owner or executive, life partner, parent, child, friend.” These are indeed facts, but what they actually say about us are opinions. What does it say about us that we are an executive at Company X? That we are in a relationship with Person Y? That we are the child of These Parents? We aren’t always sure what it says, and often the meaning doesn’t carry any true connection to who we are inside. That’s because what it says is someone else’s words imbued with someone else’s meaning.

Defining “Who am I?” can be one of the most liberating and empowering exercises we ever engage with. Claiming our attributes and characteristics, our preferences and strengths, reframing what we once saw as negative into positive — all of these activities clarify areas of our lives and our work where once there was vague cloudiness. We gain focus and motivation, definition, power, and new frames from which to lead and empower others.

Who are you really? If you stop listening to the opinions of others, and even your own old mantras about roles and positions, who are you? What are the implications for fully claiming that identity? What one action can you take this week to wean yourself off the opinions of others and begin to claim the leader you really are?

Mirrors in the Office by Michelle Kunz

Recent research in neuro-psychology includes the discovery of certain movement neurons which are activated when we observe others making movements we recognize from our own experience. These neurons are called “mirror neurons” and they are so powerfully triggered that to some part of our brains it is as if we actually made the movement ourselves.

Researchers happened on these neurons by accident and did not immediately recognize the full implications. Only after many observations in separate and unrelated experiments did they put together the correlating data and make sense of what they had. The full discovery ignited great excitement in the worlds of psychology and related areas of human behavioral study.

Here’s where it matters for our purposes: we make movements large and small every day. And they have impacts large and small on everyone around us, creating sympathetic and perhaps not-so-sympathetic reactions in others which may not even make sense to those who experience the reactions. For example, if you see me lift my coffee mug and take a sip, you don’t have to move a muscle to know exactly what I am experiencing at every point along the way. If you like coffee, you’ll enjoy that experience, creating a shared experience of pleasure.

If I furrow my brow in anger and draw my lips down in disapproval, you also know what I am experiencing in that moment without you having to be angry or disapproving yourself. And you will most likely not enjoy that experience, perhaps drawing away from me, or even expressing your own anger and disapproval to someone else if you connected deeply to your mirrored experience of anger and disapproval.

Everything we experience is put through our personal set of filters. So there is a great deal of room for error as we rely on our mirror neurons for input. Unfortunately, the part of the brain that processes our reaction to the movements and events triggered by the mirror neurons isn’t aware of those filters and processes the observation and movement data very quickly, unaware that the interpretations may be flawed. So most of the time before we have had the opportunity to become aware of our filters we have already assessed the incoming data and responded as if we KNEW what we were observing to be true based on the data alone.

Using the brow furrowing example, I might make that movement and accompany it with a grimace. Your mirror neurons and your filters interpret that as anger and you have an internal reaction to that, pulling away from me and perhaps, in the extreme, feeling the beginning of anger within you. However, I might merely be concentrating fiercely on a task that I find unpleasant or difficult. Particularly if I combine the brow furrowing and grimace with any kind of verbal exchange that includes tightness in my voice, you may still interpret this concentration as anger, most especially if you are highly sensitive to anger for any reason based on your past experiences.

One of the goals of increasing our self awareness is to increase the gap time between incoming data and response. We desire an increased gap time to allow us the opportunity to examine our filters and choose to engage with or without them in place. This requires practice and patience.

Several questions help us make good use of the discovery of mirror neurons: What data am I putting out for others to mirror? What impact is it having on them? What data am I taking in from others? How are my personal filters engaged to possibly alter my perceptions of that data? What are my default tendencies in response to that data? How can I increase my gap time?

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The Triangle by Michelle Kunz

The triangle can work to support the goals of each of the three angles and be in balance. Or it can pit the goals of each against the goals of the others and fall. Here’s how it works:

In this example, you are holding up the expectations of your team and the organization without support. You carry the weight of success or failure, and it is easy to see how any little mistake or slip one way or the other will cause the structure to fall. This is what it looks like to live in a world where you strive to control things which are not within your control.

The success or failure of the team and organization are not wholly within your control and yet you bear the weight of the outcome. Although you may be giving to each of the other angles, and they are giving as well, this structure is not balanced. Furthermore, personal growth is practically impossible because of all the weight you carry. You have no time or energy to spend on yourself or your development because you are too busy balancing the team and organizational expectations and demands.


Here we see what it looks like to live in a world where we recognize that we cannot control outside variables. Instead, we choose environments which support our internal values and goals. While this sounds selfish at the outset, what happens as a result is equilibrium. Since the team and the greater organization align with our vision, mission, values, dreams and goals, they support us while we in turn give our best back to each of the other angles. This is a solid, stable structure which can grow and support us in exploring how high and how far we want to go.How balanced is your triangle and how might making a conscious shift better support you and your entire team to more powerful equilibrium?, , , , , ,

Persona vs. Character by Michelle Kunz

In his book, Leadership from the Inside Out Kevin Cashman discusses the critical difference between persona and character and why a leader would want to minimize, but not necessarily abandon persona.

Persona is that collection of attributes we take on to cope with the outside, and sometimes the inside, world. It is what we project to the world so we appear in control, masterful, confident, capable. It is rooted in what we do, what we achieve, what we have, and what we show.

Character, on the other hand, is based on deeply centered values which are untouched by the outside world. It is who we are at our core, what we feel, what drives us from an authentic center, what is vulnerable and personal. We often keep our characters hidden out of fear that there is no place for them in the real world. We have been programmed to respond to results, not values, and results are where persona lives.

Cashman asserts that a leader cannot become truly great unless they grow their character to be so large that only a very flexible and fine layer of persona remains on the outer shell – a shell which becomes responsive and adaptable and highly aligned with the character which it contains. To nurture persona, by contrast, is to thicken our shells, to wrap our characters in ever smaller and tighter cores that may never be able to break through to the surface to have influence. We become rigid, inflexible, inadaptable.

How thick is your persona? How big is your character? From which position do you lead most often? What step can you take today to enlarge your character so your leadership takes on greater authenticity?

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New Model for Needs Hierarchy by Michelle Kunz

A poor person isn’t he who has little, but he who needs a lot. – German Proverb

Leadership should be born out of the understanding of the needs of those who would be affected by it. – Marian Anderson

I was at a networking event last week where a very interesting topic came up: Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. For those of you who are a bit rusty on your psychology, Abraham Maslow developed a theory back in the 1940s that explained human motivation based on our needs. To make it simple, once our most basic physiological needs are met — clothing, food, shelter, sleep — we can turn our attention to higher needs such as personal safety: personal safety from crime, financial security, health and well-being, safety nets against accidents and illness. Next on the list would be the group centered on love or belonging — our social needs: developing and growing friendship, family and sexual intimacy. Esteem follows: self-esteem, confidence, respect and a sense of achievement. The highest of all needs is labeled self-actualization and includes creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, acceptance and lack of prejudice. These needs are typically represented as a pyramid, with lowest needs at the base and highest needs at the pinnacle.

The first four sets of needs (all but self-actualization) Maslow referred to as Deficiency Needs. Whenever any of these needs are absent or threatened, we are likely to feel anxious or even suffer depression. However, according to Maslow, once we have met the needs in one group, we move up the pyramid and remain focused primarily on the needs of the next level. We may re-prioritize our attention for a period of time on a lower level need, but we do not permanently shift back down.

The conversation I had at this networking event challenged this last bit of the theory. In today’s society we are teethed on Oprah, well acquainted with Dr. Chopra and his friends, we’ve heard of Wayne Dyer and Don Miguel Ruiz, even if we haven’t read their works. We probably feel pretty self-actualized. We are in touch with our creativity, enjoy a degree of spontaneity unavailable to previous generations, engage in extremely innovative problem solving techniques — we even hire people to teach us to be more out of the box than we already are because we value this so highly. We are accepting and unprejudiced. Right?

So why are we so anxious about the market and the possibility of losing our jobs if something should go wrong? Why do we stay up at night worrying about the mortgage and the bills? Why do we agonize over the right school for our kids and whether or not we are truly safe? We don’t follow doctor’s orders to stop smoking or lose weight or even perform self breast exams because we are anxious about the truth of our health in spite of thousands of dollars a year in health club fees. We eat junk, we eat more junk when we are stressed and we spend money on things we will never, ever, ever need. How does this fit into Maslow’s hierarchy?

My conversation partner proposed we needed a new model — Maslow’s was developed for a society where people went to work for the same company until they retired. Once you had a job, you had job security and that was that. You worked twenty years, you retired, you received your pension, and you were done. And you knew that in advance. But hold on, this was the middle of World War II. That idyllic picture was gone. Our men were at war and our women were at work keeping the war going. Everyone was anxious. Why? Because personal security, national security — ALL security was at risk. Families and friendships were temporarily and often permanently broken and divided during the war. And at the lowest level of needs — there was frequent rationing of basic supplies. People were unable to sleep well. Who had time for self-actualization?

Modern Society’s War on Self-Actualization

I was willing to entertain the need for a new model during my conversation. But after giving this some additional thought, I am reversing that opinion. I think Maslow’s hierarchy works as well today as it ever did. The trouble is, we are at war with self-actualization. We do lip service to it — we have the books and the TV shows and all the proper vocabulary. But we do not dedicate any real time to the pursuit of creativity, spontaneity, innovation, acceptance and lack of prejudice. But we sense it would be a nice thing to do, so we talk about it a lot. But there is a huge difference between lip service and sweat service.

Here’s the problem: we are still stuck on things. We are committed to the pursuit of material goods. We are stockpiling against the possibility of loss, so we buy more, bigger, fancier and more expensive to prove our worth, our success, our worthiness, our happiness, and our lack of concern. It’s all backwards. The acquisition of those items belongs in the first level of needs, along with clothing, food, shelter, and perhaps a few belong with personal security if you’d like to count that fancy security system on your home or the bigger car because you think it will protect you in an accident. Those are low level needs, my friends.

Friendship, family and intimacy are not grown through the constant acquisition of material goods. Neither are self esteem, confidence, nor respect. Every time I get a fancy catalog in the mail and they are trying to sell me prestige or self esteem, or worse, my own sex appeal, I laugh out loud. They do not fool me. I know that none of those can be bought. Well, perhaps prestige, but that is extremely superficial, and we all know it. Having it adds to our sense of anxiety. Self esteem, confidence, achievement, respect, creativity, spontaneity, acceptance, lack of prejudice — these run deep and cannot ever be purchased, not at any price in any store. You earn these.

If you are worried about your job or the market or any of the things which are out of your control, why not take stock? Do you have your basic needs met to the best of your ability? If so, why not take a leap of faith and let go of what you cannot purchase? Opportunities lie in wait where disaster appears to those with lesser courage. Yearn for higher needs and nothing can happen that you cannot handle. It’s called self actualization and it can solve a lot of your anxiety problems. Embrace active creativity, innovation, acceptance and spontaneity. Do something, don’t just talk about it.

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Owning our greatness by Michelle Kunz

The people have always some champion whom they set over them and nurse into greatness…This and no other is the root from which a tyrant springs; when he first appears he is a protector. — Plato (427 BC – 347 BC), The Republic

The essence of independence has been to think and act according to standards from within, not without. Inevitably anyone with an independent mind must become “one who resists or opposes authority or established conventions”: a rebel. If enough people come to agree with, and follow, the Rebel, we now have a Devil. Until, of course, still more people agree. And then, finally, we have — Greatness. — Aleister Crowley (1875 – 1947)

Over the holidays I finished reading Ayn Rand’s monumental work Atlas Shrugged. I was fascinated by how well Ms. Rand captured and held my attention for more than 1,000 pages with very small type. Her characters are compelling, and the plot contains timely elements more than 50 years after the book was written.

One of the themes of the work is our amazing capacity for thought and action. And our equally amazing capacity for laziness, in both thought and lack of action. We have the remarkable ability to look anywhere but inward for reasons why our worlds are what they are. Many of Rand’s characters complain, “It’s not my fault! I never had a chance! There was nothing I could do!” and are absolutely paralyzed when faced with a decision without explicit directions on how to make them. They avoided responsibility while seeking recognition, and this created a total collapse of society in the novel because values and priorities were in conflict.

The importance of harmonious values and priorities

Of all the underlying challenges presented by clients, conflicting values and priorities is probably one of the most common. This situation arises when a stated value (let’s use high level achievement for an example) comes into direct conflict with a current priority (let’s use the importance of avoiding responsibility for one’s decisions and/or actions). Using our example, someone who is currently attempting to avoid responsibility for his or her actions will find themselves in conflict because when they achieve that priority they will also experience a lack of achievement at high levels.

It is almost impossible to achieve high level success without taking on some risk, and certainly it is impossible to do so without a willingness to own one’s actions and decisions. Unless we rationalize and say that perhaps we defined “high level achievement” to mean the successful implementation of anyone else’s ideas and actions without any risk to ourselves, there is no way to have both things happen. When we take the road of rationalization we strip the meaning from “high level achievement.” Successful implementation of someone else’s ideas and actions without any risk to ourselves might be more appropriately be called “obedience.” If we place a high value on strict obedience, it might be possible to serve that value and also successfully implement our stated priority to avoid responsbility for our decisions and/or actions.

Bringing our values and priorities into harmony allows our energy to become highly and finely tuned toward what we truly desire at our innermost levels. This highly attuned energy makes work seem effortless, brings joy and pride (as opposed to egotism) to our accomplishments and establishes a sense of purpose and drive to our lives and activities. Setting priorities — whether for the day or for the year — without checking to see how they complement or conflict with our values places us in the position of being out of tune, like an engine — working harder, feelings less satisfied, and getting less done. This is because when we are working in the direction of one, we work in the opposite direction of the other. We are in inner conflict.

Thinking for ourselves

The heroes of Rand’s novel are thinkers and doers. They do not hesitate in the face of great and perhaps even grave responsibility. They willingly take on the consequences of their decisions and move forward into the opportunities they create for themselves in the very act of choosing. If we lay down the shackles we create by habitually judging outcomes as good or bad, we, too, can learn to see that every act, every decision presents opportunities as a result of doing something. The longer we wait, past a reasonable point of discovery and consideration, the greater the risk that we lose opportunities which were present and are now gone because they were time sensitive. Yes, it is also true that some opportunities will present only by waiting — the other side of time sensitivity — but it is a rare situation indeed where we are not well served to set things in motion in some small way sooner than later.

Waiting for someone else’s approval or perhaps a group consensus can be very reassuring, helping us feel somehow confirmed in our decision, but as leaders we strengthen our confidence and decision making ability when we learn to discern the difference between seeking appropriate input and hedging due to our perception of risk. There is always risk, even when we’ve built a consensus. As leaders we cannot, like the Rand characters, say, “but everyone said it would work” and allow responsibility to slide off our shoulders. Consensus building can sometimes be a complete waste of time when decision and action are within our grasp and require nothing more than our ability to think for ourselves and move boldly.

Some people will argue that the purpose of building a consensus (which is, by definition, agreement) is to garner support before you just broadside a group with your tyranny. This is a great example of black and white thinking. Who said it had to be one way or the other? A great leader knows how to reach a decision and create buy-in before implementation by showing the team the opportunities. Ideally, everyone has had a chance to weigh in with their concerns, and creating buy-in, in part, involves genuinely thanking everyone for their contributions and then moving on with how the decision will create win-win situations for all involved over the long term. Yes, there are risks, and we can debate whether they are greater or lesser with this approach or that, but action is where learning takes place, not in theoretical discussion. As we implement, we remain flexible and alert and can make adjustments as needed.

Owning our greatness

Our greatness can be achieved through being set up and artifically coddled, as the quote by Plato so clearly describes. Or, as Rand’s characters and the Crowley quote suggest, we can achieve greatness by being the independent and creative thinkers and doers we are capable and perhaps even meant to be. Acting from standards set from within — our harmoniously tuned values and priorities — may or may not turn us into the Rebels and Devils Crowley describes, but it will guarantee that we become leaders of confidence, integrity and honor. The energy and power that emanate from such men and women is often palpable and the impact can be tremendous — whether or not you agree with them. To choose otherwise cannot create the same result because the person inside is nothing but lukewarm. Be on fire, own your greatness, and watch your leadership transform.

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Are You Self-Motivated, Going-Through-the-Motions, or Tuned-Out? by Michelle Kunz

In an article on engagement (“Engage me or enrage me”, Management Issues, 26 Sep 2006), Max McKeown describes three possible types of students and the three possible types of employees they may become: self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out. These types develop as a result of the education system failing to fully engage a student, followed by their employment experience failing to fully engage them. This post does not intend to address the issues of the education system nor describe the three types and how to diagnose them. The reason I bring this to your attention is that as a leader, you are going to have these types on your team. And you, yourself, are also most likely one of these types.

In a series of separate articles Management Issues addresses a host of topics related to employee engagement. Among them is the article “The keys to employee engagement” (February 2007) in which a UK poll of 100,000 employees suggests that managers who lead by example, listen to their employees and engage in life long learning are most likely to engage employees. Let me paint this a little more clearly for those of you who may be feeling lost. The self-motivated employees are your smallest problem. If you have any hope of engaging the going-through-the-motion and the tuned-out types, you are going to have to step up to the plate and engage yourself first.

Leading by example

If we are to lead by example, we must first take an honest, no-holds-barred look at ourselves and see where we stand. If it is possible that our employees fall into one of three categories (self-motivated, going-through-the-motions, or tuned-out), then we must assess ourselves and see where we fall as well. To lead others, we must be able to lead ourselves. We must be able to walk the talk. This is because there is no leadership without trust. Trust requires vulnerability. And vulnerability requires that we can readily and freely admit our strengths AND our weaknesses. What we know and what we don’t. Where we are confident and where we need help. How can we expect our team to do what we ourselves are unwilling to do?

Leadership is an ongoing study in self growth. There is no way you can lead from a going-through-the-motions or a tuned-out position. We must get to a place of self motivation. This is sometimes simply a matter of hard work and discipline. Just when you think you’ve conquered your last experience with boredom and apathy, a day comes when the work facing you for the next eight hours seems less aligned with your internal fire and vision than you had hoped. The true test of self motivation arrives at that moment in the shape of: What do you do under those circumstances?

There are thousands of books written to tell you how to keep positive thoughts going, how to write out your goals and keep them in front of you to inspire you, how to prioritize and organize your time and tasks. And there are some people for whom those systems work very, very well. But what about those for whom the systems occasionally or perhaps even often don’t work? Is this an indication that they are less self-motivated? By definition, I argue that this means that in fact, no, they are not less self-motivated. For the first group, it is the goal, the positive thoughts, the system which is keeping them going — and as long as that works, they should keep doing it! But what if you are struggling to get motivated by goals, positive thoughts and systems?

Tapping into your values and principles

Some people are strongly motivated by a set of deeply held inner values and core principles by which their entire worlds are organized. When a project or even a small chore or task aligns with those values, they experience a sense of urgency and excitement which carries them through the action required. It doesn’t feel like work at all, and the time flies. If a given project or task does not seem to align with those core values, it is extremely difficult to see the point in doing it. It feels like a waste of time, and the time drags by.

The truth is, all of us have these core values and principles. We simply are not always aware of what they are. We have never stopped to give it any thought. If I were to ask you to define and rank your top five values, you might have a very difficult time coming up with a list. You might easily come up with twenty values you think should have equal importance, or you might struggle to come up with three. Either experience is simply an indication that you have not had the opportunity to think in these terms before.

As a powerful leader, it is essential to know clearly and without hesitation what your defining values are. When you have clarified this for yourself, you will become aware of which activities align with your values and which do not. And several options will become available to you. You can delegate a certain task to someone else who might have better alignment with the task; you can re-frame the task; or you can simply say no and seek tasks which are in better alignment with your values.

Furthermore, once you have clarity around values and principles, any set of goals, positive thoughts and external systems will have more value for you because you will ensure that whatever you are working with, it aligns with some deeper meaning. This creates a powerful synergy within you that allows the outer stuff (the goals, ideas, etc.) to have much more purpose. You will experience greater buy-in to your own plans.

Listening deeply to those we lead

Whether it is our children, someone we serve as a volunteer, or our employees, learning to listen deeply is essential in mastering the art of engaging others. The key is to listen to clues as to what the other person’s values and core principles might be. As we have seen, it is here that the essential ingredients — the keys — lie to true motivation.

For example, if someone is struggling with a particular task, we can ask empowering questions. What about the task is challenging? If the answer is anything other than skill related, this is a sign that something is out of alignment for the other person. Resistance in any form is a sign of misalignment. Sometimes we need to dig a little deeper to uncover assumptions or limiting beliefs that are simply in the way of alignment occurring. This can be true if the person we are working with believes that the task isn’t important, that no one cares about their project, that perceptions exist about their role in the company and so on. Our job at that point is to remove the assumptions and limiting beliefs so the person can become realigned with their task.

If the person we are working with begins to talk about not feeling connected to the bigger project or company picture, this is an indication of a larger type of misalignment which may or may not be able to be adjusted. Helping the person articulate their inner values at this point can be very helpful. Questions such as: What are the most important things to you in your life? What do you value the most in life? asked in a safe, confidential context can help the individual and you come to a greater understanding of what kind of work really motivates them. If you can then find a way to connect the work required of them to their motivations, you can help realign them to the task at hand. If not, it is sometimes better for all people involved if the person moves on to something else they are better suited for.

Life long learning

There are many types of learning, and it is easiest to focus on the external acquisition of additional skills. As leaders, who we are is often more important than what we know. To fully maximize our potential in being we need to become skilled in the area of self awareness. Self awareness is a life long process. It is not a course you take on a weekend where you receive a certificate and then you’re done. Of all the learning we can do to become more powerful leaders, self awareness is among the most important. When we seek to lead by example, how else can we truly accomplish that without a deep understanding of what it is we do and why? This applies everywhere — how we listen, how we talk, how we organize our tasks, how we approach problems, how we interact with others — and why. Self awareness does not require years of therapy (in the absence of psychological distress), but it does require an ongoing willingness to look inward and ask questions.

Many of us would prefer to not look within. We are afraid of what we will see and the implications. We’ll have to change everything, and we know that is impossible, so we feel like failures before we ever begin. That approach is filled with assumptions and limiting beliefs. A more curious and gentle approach might serve us better. We aren’t looking to deconstruct every relationship we ever had. We’re looking to get to know ourselves better. What am I really like? What makes my creative and energetic juices flow? What do I like and don’t like? If there were no other people or institutions in the world (i.e., no pressure), what would I choose for this or that? Why am I not choosing that now? If I could have any resource I needed within 24 hours, what would I choose to do within the next 48?

The answers to these questions shed a great deal of light on who we are now and who we might become. Powerful leaders look for potential within as well as without and they know that like the old song “let peace begin with me”, motivation, engagement, excitement, inspiration, all that is good in leadership begins with one person: me.

Are you self-motivated, going-through-the-motions or tuned-out? Regardless of were you are now, you have the ability to make a big shift into the type you choose to be. Choose powerful leadership. Choose leading by example, deep listening and life long learning.

Integrity vs. Convenience by Michelle Kunz

Carmine Coyote’s blog entry for September 21 asks a very important question: Can you display integrity only when it suits you? Inspired by Peter Vajda’s article “Integrity at work – how do you stack up?” Carmine argues that striving for absolute integrity adds undue stress and guilt to already overwhelmed individuals who may find that under certain circumstances it makes sense to simply compromise their integrity in favor of simplifying a tense or demanding situation.

Peter Vajda states that integrity is “a lot like being pregnant. Either you’re pregnant, or you aren’t. There’s no middle ground.” Either we act with integrity or we don’t. This is a tough position to take, and his quiz asks some very hard questions. I cannot pass with 100% perfection. The perfection word has tripped us up again. That and a lack of clarity around what is integrity.

What is integrity?

Integrity, according to Encarta, is “the quality of possessing and steadfastly adhering to high moral principles or professional standards.” The second and third definitions are also helpful in extending our understanding: “the state of being complete or undivided” and “the state of being sound or undamaged.” Taken together, one who acts with integrity not only possesses and steadfastly adheres to high moral principles or standards, but is also complete, undivided and undamaged. This state of being complete, undivided and undamaged is due to the fact that such an individual does not act in a way that divides them against themselves. They hold themselves in a state of deep respect and honor.

Whose standards?

The problems we experience with integrity begin when we fail to stop and ask ourselves whose standards we possess and expect ourselves to adhere to. It makes sense that whenever those standards are externally imposed we will at some point find ourselves in conflict with them and probably choose to ignore them. There may or may not be an external consequence for that choice, but most people will experience some sense of guilt or shame for going against principles they claim to honor but fail to actually follow in their real life actions.

A better choice is to take the time to define our own values and standards. When we narrow down our most important values to no more than five (it is almost impossible to focus on any more than about five) what we have left is a set of core defining principles around which all of our actions and attitudes can be compared. When we align our actions, attitudes and beliefs with these core principles, we are living in integrity. Because they are prinicples we defined, we see the direct correlation between living these values and an improvement in some area of our life, depending on what values we defined. Making choices becomes easier, saying no becomes easier, and guilt is manageable because when we say no to something external, we say yes to something internal.


A mid-level manager is working 60 hour weeks. His wife complains frequently that he is missing his son’s soccer games and isn’t home to engage with her. She questions his values around family. He experiences a great deal of shame and guilt because he thinks he ought to be a better husband and father, but he doesn’t know how to balance the demands of his job with the demands of his family.

During a coaching session, we define his core values as Family, Financial Freedom, Authenticity, Integrity and Honesty. As we explore what these values mean to him, we uncover that he has deep concerns regarding paying his mortgage and a strong desire to earn a promotion which may be available to him in the next year so he can provide some additional discretionary income to his family. He has a strong commitment to providing for his family’s financial future, and a desire to fulfill his wife’s desire for nice things in their home.

On closer inspection, it turns out that his working long hours serves two of his five core values: Family and Financial Freedom. By working long and hard he has a better chance at getting that promotion, and therefore providing for his family’s financial future and filling their immediate desires. He has not seen it in these terms before because on the surface it looks like his values have been in conflict. But the long hours are less about his career and more about his family. Where he is out of alignment most is in Authenticity and Honesty. He needs to have a discussion with his wife to express with authenticity and honesty how his working long hours serves those other two core values. This will put him into better integrity over all. With her feedback he can make adjustments if necessary as he gains a better understanding of his family’s financial needs and desires.

At first glance, it may have looked as if the answer was “work fewer hours and spend more time with your family”. Perhaps after receiving feedback from his wife the answer will be more along the lines of “work 55 hours and spend one hour per weekday playing with your son”. The point here is that until you define your core values, you don’t really know what the answer is. What appears to be the answer might be a lousy compromise that will make you feel guilty about something else. You end up trading guilt for guilt.

Relationships – Integrity = Lack of Trust

When people choose convenience based integrity, which means they adhere to high principles only when it is convenient, no one knows what to expect. Who defines when it is convenient? When is that definition made public? Typically that decision is made on the spur of the moment and under duress. Or in rebellion. Or in any number of other situations which are purely self serving. How can anyone count on you when your integrity changes without warning? Trust simply cannot exist under such conditions, and this is a requirement for powerful, engaging, dynamic leadership.

Trust requires reliability — people have to know what to expect from you. Your commitment to your self-defined set of values makes you reliable. Your actions align themselves in a way that makes sense because they are defined by your values. Even if people do not agree with your values, they at least know what to expect, and this increases their ability to trust you.

What many people dislike about absolute integrity is that it requires absolute responsibility for our actions. When we find ourselves out of alignment, we cannot affix blame to outside circumstances or other people. We have only ourselves to look to for accountability. And this is a key difference.

Blame vs. Accountability

When you practice convenience integrity, you get an easy way out any time you need an excuse as to why you choose an action which does not align itself with your values. You simply blame it on the extenuating circumstances. “The boss required it.” “I needed a break.” The assumption is that you’ve done something wrong and you need to provide a reason why. When you practice absolute integrity, there is a better choice: accountability.

Accountability and responsibility are interchangeable. Blame, however, is not. Blame is always negative. Accountability and responsibility are neutral. This difference is crucial. When we look within to examine our behavior in a situation where our actions did not align with our values, we can give ourselves permission to be neutral. We can simply be in discovery mode. What were the circumstances? What were we thinking and feeling? What other values came into play? What other choices might we have made instead which would have better served our core values? What kept us from making those choices? What can we do differently next time?

This mode of discovery allows growth to occur. Convenience integrity does not allow for growth because of the convenience factor. It’s like eating fast food: no work, little nutrition. The blame game encourages excuses rather than discovery, and we go nowhere. But we still feel guilt, even while we feel relief. Because we know that we have divided ourselves and we are now unreliable.
Powerful leaders know it requires courage and inner strength to live with integrity. They do not fool themselves into thinking it requires perfection. They realize the values they define are there as a guide for their actions, and they seek to choose those actions mindfully. When they make a mistake, they freely admit it, learn from their experience and adapt. This adaptive ability strengthens their alignment with their core values. As a result, they become more reliable and trustworthy, which encourages others to have greater confidence in their ability to lead.