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Values observed

by | Mar 11, 2021 | observe, Values, Weather Report

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Today we observe exactly a year from when the Coronvirus became viscerally real.  It had been bounced around through the weeks since January, but most people acknowledge that when the NBA suspended their season on March 11, 2020, that was the gulp heard around the world.  I find it ironic that the NBA, who had proverbial “brushback pitches” thrown by the Chinese in the fall, would be the oracle of what was actually happening… and that all our Values were about to go through a year of severe testing. 

In organizations, we often lead workshops on Values-Based Leadership.  The exercise is surprisingly simple.  Most have “Values” that appear – on posters on the walls of conference rooms, in performance management systems, in press releases, and often on recruiting postings.  They are largely derived from lists that come from Leadership consultants – like us to be honest – which have been grounded in research… or simply stated as real.  Either way, the first part of the exercise is simple: “Describe where you observe these Values?”  We assign small groups, and they discuss, looking for examples of what they mean and where these Values are actually seen… 

By now, Weather Report had released six albums that were mostly Valued by Jazz Fusion fans – read that as not very successful.  Looking back you can see glimpses of greatness, and I would count myself as one of the early fans.  But with their 7th album, the lineup was finally in place for the soundtrack for the rest of this week.  Four major hits that will demonstrate the amazing musicianship that this team was able to bring together.  An interesting side story is that unlike other bands, the drummer was a “rotating” position, with almost a different player for every album.

… the other part of the workshop is more interesting: “Describe a place where you observe these Values in conflict”.  Again a simple question, and one that is most often very interesting to facilitate.  Particularly when there are a mix of levels in the room, lots of darting looks will appear, and it is common for a lot of silence to appear.  As trained coaches, we are ready for this, and watch as the more interesting and important conversations start to happen.  In high-performing organizations, it is a very healthy discussion of the conflicts that are real, imagined, and the teams grow through a good exchange… 

… in other teams, there are some complex rhythms that appear.  In one particular workshop, as we progressed into the second phase, there were looks towards a particularly senior person, who after a bit of silence, talked about how these Values were not in conflict, and that the examples from the first part of the exercise were more representative.  This example of unhealthy conflict is present in teams that don’t have leadership that engages in regular conversations on difficult topics, the most glaring one is Trust.  Patrick Lenconi’s work talks about that foundation – observing and discussing difficult topics is the key to teams that thrive. We could only do so much in our limited interaction – they didn’t really want to resolve this issue we had uncovered and just wanted a half-day “offsite” to “feel better”…

One thing that this year has helped me understand clearly is what Values are, and how complex they are to navigate for most.  It has been easy to say that you believe something… only to have the opposite show up and confront your reality.  I won’t delve into politics or science or any of the other areas where discussions have gotten complex lately… other than to say that it is helpful to realize that Values need to be held in a gentle hand.  As with Fusion Jazz, the elements that bring it together also can lead it to be discordant to many.  One of the most beautiful songs from an album that would change music… with a title that can describe the last year – Heavy Weather.  What Values you have observed … and learned in the last year… are they real, or simply, A Remark You Made? 

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