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Personal Values: Why We Do What We Do
By Rich Meiss • Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Motivation Series- Article III


One of the most important puzzle pieces to put into place in our lives is that of our personal values.  Our values influence everything we do.  They influence what we buy, where we live, and the kinds of friends we have.  They influence what religious organization we belong to and whom we marry (or if we belong and if we marry).  And our values influence what we do with our life.


What is a value?  It is a belief, principle, or standard that influences our life choices.  A value is a guidepost that directs and shapes our world.  And these individual values combine to form a values system – an organized way of thinking shaped by our standards.  These standards and principles make up the range of each person’s beliefs from which he or she acts.


For a moment, think about things that:

            Feel important to you

            Define your fundamental character

            Supply meaning to your work and life

            Influence the decisions you make

            Compel you to take a stand

            Provide an atmosphere in which you are most productive.


Your answers help define what you value.  Each human being has a “system of values” that began developing from the time we were born.  Behaviorists call it “values programming”.  Where we lived, the parents we had, our education, religion, and friends – all of these contributed to our “values programming”.  Even where we grew up, geographically, influenced us.


I was born and raised on a farm in western Minnesota in the 1950’s and 1960’s.  My parents were hard working, family dedicated, religious people who strongly influenced the values I hold today.   Getting up early and working hard, and being devoted to my family and my faith would be high in my list of priority values.  But there are some values that my parents held that I no longer hold.  For example, they voted for one political party their entire life, while I have been known to cross party lines on occasion to vote for “the better person”.  They valued security – living in only two places their entire married life – while I have lived in many homes and made my living traveling around the country speaking and training.


Actual Values vs. Ideal Values


There is no tragedy in challenging the values of our youth, or even in changing some of those values.  The tragedy is that many of us do not know why we do the things we do, or even what we actually think or believe.  We are living out someone else’s “ideal values” rather than our own “actual values”.  We can change this by surveying a list of values and getting clear on our own personal values.  By identifying the values programmed into us, and taking an open-minded look at our personal experiences in our present life, we can begin to make a conscious effort in knowing what we believe, why we believe it, and how those beliefs influence our life decisions.


Evaluating our values gives us a personal road map for life.  As we learn how to read the map we will have more control of our life and make better choices.  We will also be less negative, confused and bored and more positive, consistent and purposeful.  Values evaluation involves choosing, honoring and acting consciously upon our values.  It sensitizes us to values issues.  It gives us experience in thinking critically about why we do the things we do.


Values Clarity Leads to Good Decisions


One of the values high on my list is that of “integrity” – doing the right thing.  In my business of leading training programs and speaking to groups, it is common to have several organizations competing for my time.  For example, I was recently contracted to lead a two-day training program in New York in January, when I received a call from a company requesting me for four days in Phoenix.  Because the days overlapped, I could not take both engagements.  From most perspectives, I wanted to spend four days in Phoenix rather than two days in New York.  The temperature was about 40 degrees different.  I would be paid for four days of work rather than two.  And I have a brother in Phoenix that I would have liked to visit.  But because of my previous commitment and my value of integrity, I chose to honor the New York engagement.


Our values are the basis for our responses in life.  Literally, everything is sifted through the value system operating in us.  Everything we do is automatically filtered – on a gut-level – through our values system.  We therefore owe it to ourselves, and our families and our society, to consciously know what we value.  At the same time, it is important to remember that we carry with us a package of complex values.


Values Clusters or “Positions”


In 1928, German educator and researcher Eduard Spranger published a book called Types of Men.  In the book, Spranger identified six values clusters that create significant motivation for people.  Spranger’s work has been further researched and refined by American researchers, including Dr. Russ Watson in Chicago.  His research since 1972 also identifies six values positions as follows.


 Social Values:  The Drive to Serve Others


Those people who score high in their social values have a high degree of empathy and sincerity, and they are usually generous with their time and talent.  You will often find these people working for volunteer organizations – often sacrificing their own needs to meet the needs of others.


When I ask people from Minnesota who they think of when they think of high social values, Mary Jo Copeland’s name is often given.  Mary Jo runs an organization locally called Helping Hands.  She is constantly in the news because of her contributions to the homeless and orphans.  She has an untiring devotion to those who are “down and out” in the world.  She is our own local example of a Mother Theresa – someone who is helping the poorest of the poor.


Another example of a person with high social values is former President Jimmy Carter.  Since leaving office, President Carter has been an active volunteer for Habitat for Humanity, helping build many homes with his own two hands.  He and Rosalyn run the nonprofit Carter Center in Atlanta, a place that is deeply committed to social justice and basic human rights.  Much of their work has been devoted to promoting democracy and monitoring elections in troubled spots around the world.  President Carter, like Mother Theresa, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.


In business, those with high social values are generous in sharing their time and talent with others.  They are usually good teachers and coaches.  Those who score lower in this values cluster are more guarded in giving of their time.  They are careful not to be taken advantage of, and ration their generosity.



Individualistic Values:  The Drive for Power and Influence


Those with high individualistic values enjoy a feeling of power, clout and control.  They like to be in charge of projects and take on leadership roles.  They are competitive, and are usually willing to take the credit or the blame.  Those on the low end of the individualistic values cluster, on the other hand, are usually willing to be followers.  They are good team players who are willing to support the project or the cause.  They have no hidden agendas.


Although this values cluster does not necessarily have to do with politics per se, we see many examples of politicians who score high in this regard.  Former President Bill Clinton is someone who highly values leadership, power and control.  And although you may or may not agree with his politics, you have to admit that he exercised his influence in many ways during his two terms in office. 


In the sports world, it is interesting to see the power struggles that result from those coaches who value high control.   Several top NFL football coaches have only taken head coaching jobs after they have been assured that they would have a big say in the recruitment of new players and the management of their teams.  Other coaches have resigned their positions because of “head butting” with the owners of their teams.


In business, the high individualistic value is seen in those employees who are very intent on “climbing the corporate ladder”.  These people look for ways to make themselves visible to upper management, and their next promotion is often in the back of their minds.  They are generally good at promoting themselves – not being afraid of “tooting their own horns”. 


Traditional Values:  The Drive for Order and Structure


Those high in traditional values prefer routine, rules, regulations and structure.  They are generally well disciplined people who demonstrate high quality in their work and life output.  They are often very dependent on traditions.


Although high in this value cluster are not always religious, one of the best examples of someone who highly values this position is the Rev. Billy Graham.  Starting with a humble calling to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15), Rev. Graham has spoken to millions all over the world in his long and respected career, converting many to a personal faith in Jesus Christ.  In addition to his evangelistic work, he has been an advisor to many world leaders, including U.S. presidents.


In business, those high in traditional values are seen as those who want to “run the business by the book”.  They are quick to point out the policies and procedures of the organization, and encourage employees to live by them.  They are good with details and focused performance.  Those low on this values cluster are often big picture people – not so good with the details, but able to do many things at one time.  Low scores here often mean an ability to adapt to new projects and methods, and be a good multi-tasker.


Utilitarian Values:  The Drive for Money


Those who score high in this values cluster are driven to earn and amass lots of money.  And although some would say they are greedy, they are not always greedy in a negative sense.  Many with this values drive love to give away the money that they amass.  One of the downsides to this values cluster is that high utilitarians often turn into workaholics.  For them it is not a problem – they are doing what they love to do, which is earning money.  But it may be a problem for their family and/or loved ones.


Those high in the utilitarian values cluster are very bottom-line oriented.  They are competitive.  They want practical solutions.  Often these people are involved in sales jobs that are based on straight commission.  They want the opportunity for large gain, while not being concerned about security.


Donald Trump is a good example of someone with a high utilitarian values cluster .  He has made and lost billions with his risky ventures in real estate, casinos and more.  He loves the “art of the deal”.  He also loves women, but he hasn’t had lots of success in hanging on to them.  This is probably because he is much more motivated in his pursuit of wealth than in his pursuit of a lasting relationship.


Whereas high utilitarians are driven by risk and reward, low utilitarians are driven by safety and security.  They are much more service driven than sales driven.  They are often willing to put others before themselves – especially if their low utilitarian values are complemented by a high altruistic set of values.



Aesthetic Values:  The Drive for Beauty and Harmony


Those who score high in this values cluster are often artists, poets, inventors philosophers, and other creative individuals.  They appreciate and value beauty and harmony.  They work well in an environment that allows them to “personalize” their working space and create beautiful surroundings.  They would not work well in settings of cubicles with no windows.


Martha Stewart is a well-known example of someone with a high aesthetics values cluster. (Imagine how tough it was for her to serve time in jail for insider stock trading – she probably spent lots of time decorating and beautifying her cell!)  This cooking and lifestyle guru not only spends time making all her environments pleasant, but she also teaches others to do so.  She has been the voice of form and beauty for millions in the areas of cooking, gardening and home decorating.


Those high in aesthetic values can add much to the marketing department of a company, helping to create unique ad campaigns, company logos, and other marketing literature.  Those who score low in this values cluster are often unaware of the impact of color schemes, form and function, and rhyme and rhythm.


Theoretical Values:  The Drive for Knowledge


Those who favor this values cluster agree with Francis Bacon, who once said:  “Knowledge itself is power”.  The person motivated by high theoretical values loves exploring new ideas and interests.  They rarely visit a bookstore without buying an armful of books.  They get their knowledge from many sources:  printed materials, websites, visits with other people, and television programs like the Discovery Channel and History Channel.  These are tough people to beat at Trivial Pursuit!


A business colleague of mine is high in this values cluster.  He reads voraciously – often a book a day.  On airplane flights, he takes along a dozen or so magazines, so he won’t run out of something to read.  If he does, he reads the ingredients on the Coke can or the peanut sack – just so he has something to read.  He enjoys knowledge for the sake of knowledge itself.


Daytime television talk guru Oprah Winfrey is a good example of a celebrity with a high theoretical value.  Through her Book Club and its seal of approval, she has turned many aspiring authors into best selling authors, and has helped sell millions of books.  Through her interviews it is evident that she knows a great deal about a lot of subjects.  And she currently publishes her own popular magazine as well.


High theoreticals have a high degree of curiosity and a large appetite for learning.  They desire to have technical competence and credibility.  Those with lower scores in this values cluster usually want to learn enough to get practical results, but they are not interested in learning a lot of “useless” facts and information.


To get a sense of a person’s values clusters, listen to them talk.  Find out what is important to them.  Observe how they spend their time and their money – the “calendar and checkbook” test.  These values become the hidden motivators of much of our human behavior.


How You Can Benefit by Understanding Your High Values Clusters


Most of the time, we will each have two of these clusters that will be our primary values motivators and influence the other four.  Values clusters are dynamic, however, and can change based on life’s events and our reaction to those events.  Dramatic changes usually occur only when we go through “significant emotional events” – what values author Dr. Morris Massey calls SEEs.  These significant emotional events could be a death in the family, a divorce, being fired from a job, a serious illness, and other negative events.  They can also be positive events – the birth of a child or a job promotion would be examples of positive SEEs that can radically alter our values.


By understanding the values clusters that you currently embrace, you will have more job satisfaction, better interpersonal relationships, and a deeper appreciation for yourself and why you do what you do.  You can learn about your high and low values by completing a values assessment.


When I complete the values assessment, my two highest clusters typically are social and traditional.  I have a high drive to meet other’s needs – to teach, coach and help other people.  I also like to do this in an environment that maintains a high sense of order and regularity.  By understanding this about myself, it has helped me stay clear of straight commission sales jobs and working environments that operate in a state of chaos.


I also have a tendency for my individualistic values cluster to come out high on my assessment from time to time, which creates some intrapersonal conflict for me.  The natural tendency is for the high social (value of helping others) to conflict with the high individualistic (value of being independent, desire for freedom).   The goal that I work on with these is to have them become completing rather than competing values – to get them working together for the best outcomes.



The Danger of Not Knowing Our Values


There are benefits for both individuals and organizations in understanding their top values clusters.  The flip side of not having a good understanding of our values is often the loss of trust and the breakdown of relationships.  An example shared by a colleague illustrates this point.  A group of executives were gathered with my consultant friend to do some business planning for the next year.  They had spent the morning working on their corporate values, one of which they articulated as being “people are our most important asset” (high Social values)!  They then got into a long argument about a funding issue on next years budget (high Utilitarian/Economic values), thereby leaving a group of subordinates who were to make a business presentation to the group nervously waiting in the hallway outside.  Once the executive group had finished their “important” financial discussion, they enjoyed their lunch while “allowing” the subordinates to make their presentations.  My colleague pointed out that this group would be far better off honestly telling their employees that “numbers are our most important factor” than stating that people are important and then treating them disrespectfully.


Creating a Corporate Culture of Shared Values


When we put together teams and organizations of people, we want and need the differing DISC behaviors that people naturally bring to their jobs.  We need the “drive” of the high D, the “influence” of the high I, the “steadiness” of the high S, and the “cautiousness” of the High C.  In the case of values, however, we want to create a spirit of mutual or “shared” values.  Ideally, we want teams of people that share common values clusters to prevent conflict and breakdowns.


One of the suggestions, therefore, is to learn about the values culture that currently exists in an organization, and use these assessment tools to support the selection process and consistently hire candidates for a values fit as well as a skills fit.  This provides a great match and allows for maximum motivation of the workers.


Unfortunately, however, there are often values differences within the various departments of an organization.  The fast-moving sales or marketing departments, for example, are often motivated by the high utilitarian and individualistic values (make the money and operate with few rules or boundaries), while the slower-moving accounting department is probably motivated by the lower utilitarian and higher traditional values (just make sure that we follow the rules and get it done right).  In these situations, those organizations that can minimize these conflicts through training and education will be the ones generating the best results in an atmosphere of mutual trust and respect.


It is unrealistic to believe that we will ever be able to operate ONLY with those of like values, in business and in life.  Therefore it is important that we learn to understand and accept other positions, while not compromising our own positions.  Sometimes we have to learn how to disagree, “without being disagreeable”.  This attitude of tolerance and respect goes a long way in minimizing internal work conflicts as well as external social conflicts.



Five Rules for Managing Values


In another article on the DISC model (Motivation and Personal Style: How We Do What We Do), we suggested a guideline for using the model appropriately “Different does not equal wrong, it just equals different”. There are also some guidelines for using the values material.  Here are five rules for managing values:

1)    All values positions are positions that deserve respect.

2)    People do not always agree on values questions.

3)    People will answer values questions in different ways.

4)    The values of any organization are the values that its managers and employees demonstrate.

5)    All values positions are positions that deserve respect.


By understanding your own values motivation, you will be clearer about the choices and decisions you will want to make for your life.  And by learning about others’ values positions, you can have a better understanding of their motivation and behavior.


© Copyright 2008.  Meiss Education Institute.  All rights reserved.


For more information on the assessments, reports and tools referenced above, along with pricing information, please call Meiss Education Institute at 952-446-1586, or contact Meiss Education Institute at





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