One Set of Values is all You Need

I had to code-switch as a kid living in a Sri Lankan immigrant household and then going to a suburban predominantly white school in New Jersey.

On a daily basis, I switched who I was depending on where I was.

Do you have one set of values for how you show up at work and another for at home? Ideally, you should be able to be the same person at work as you are at home, with some small changes (maybe no pajamas at work). For some, this is a privilege that we do not even notice and for others, it may feel like a luxury. In fact, we all should be able to show up with one set of values that is true for us in both settings. 

The Importance of Values

When I begin coaching a new client, we often work through a values exercise. We use a list of values and narrow our way through to the few values that are most meaningful for the client. There is usually thoughtful, messy, and worthwhile discussion in the process. It would not be unusual for the client to ask me: Should I think about this set of values for my professional life or my personal life? When I first started coaching, I quickly answered: professional life. Now, a little bit more experienced, I realize that ideally, you should only have one set of values for both your professional and personal life. You should be able to show up as the same person at work and at home. 

Your Core Values

Of course, the workplace has different expectations such as those listed in the employee handbook for your workplace. I am not speaking of these. I am speaking of the core values that are true for you and how you show up as an individual. Imagine having to switch who you are and what you value when you enter your workplace. I realized that as a woman and person of color, I often had to ‘code switch’ and align myself differently in the workplace. I even did this as a kid living in a Sri Lankan immigrant household and then going to a suburban predominantly white school in New Jersey. On a daily basis, I switched who I was depending on where I was. This type of assimilation is exhausting work. Of course, we all do this to a certain extent. 

The Personal and the Professional: Yes!

Can we live into the same values both professionally and personally? I do believe so. It is so refreshing to be the same person who values the same things in both places. I don’t have to have different priorities because I am in a different place. This has served me well so far as I am making more connections amongst my decisions, thoughts, and relationships in both places. In some ways, I am narrowing my focus and increasing my speed of progress with this method. I am growing into a more grounded and secure version of myself, no longer code switching depending on my environment, work or home. This leads to a deeper sense of belonging.  The Othering and Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley states, ‘‘belonging describes values and practices where no person is left out of our circle of concern’. It feels good to be me no matter where I am and to be included in a community. This is a true sense of belonging.

Leadership Moves

The institutions we work in and the leaders we work with have a big part in this work. How do we as leaders create an environment that allows all our people to feel fully present in their values? 

Why is it important to create bridges so that our team members feel a sense of belonging? Shigeoka and Marsh share keys to bridging differences in Greater Good Magazine. They write, “Indeed, bridging starts from recognizing that another person or group has their own human needs, tastes, values, goals, and worldview, just as you do. Without that basic recognition of your shared humanity, constructive dialogue—to say nothing of problem-solving—is unlikely to happen.” – Scott Shigeoka and Jason Marsh, Greater Good Magazine 

Leaders, consider this:

  • Acknowledge and get to know your direct report’s values. Listen to what the individuals in your team have set as their values. This is a way to bridge and make connections and ultimately see shared humanity.
  • Spend time doing a values exercise for yourself as a leader and with your administrative group. Share what you value as a leader with your group.
  • Take time to identify what it looks like to really live into your values.
  • Take steps to collaborate with your people by encouraging and growing their self-identified values.

Some resources to consider:

  • On her Unlocking Us Podcast, Brene Brown talks with her sister, Barrett, about living into your values and what that looks like, and why it is important to do this focused work. 
  • The RULER program from Yale University also has a way to build a set of values for your team which allows everyone to have input and decide how you will show up together as a community called building a Charter.