NOTE: This is a blog that I wrote back in 2015, but the topic has come up a lot lately.
We are happier, more confident, and more successful when we live in alignment with our values. Imagine a ruler that shows the values that are most important to you. I call mine my Golden Ruler.
Ideally, we want to hold each action that we are considering against our Golden Ruler and see if the action is in alignment with our values. For example, kindness is one of my main values. I want to be kind and be known as a kind person. However, I have a tendency to be a little snarky and sarcastic sometimes. I’m hilarious when I’m snarky, but the laugh is short-lived and I don’t feel good about the action because it’s not in alignment with my values. If I stop and ask myself, “Am I about to say something unkind?” I am measuring my possible action against my Golden Ruler. I feel better about myself and my life when my actions are in alignment with the values of my Golden Ruler.
In my leadership seminars, we talk about our values quite a bit. It’s important to know what your Golden Ruler looks like! We talk about how we want to be remembered when we are gone and what qualities we want to define us. We talk about specific examples of how we live those values. Then I ask them to tell a partner about one time when they didn’t live their values.
Without fail, everyone has to tell the story around the action. They explain why they “had” to do what they did that one time. They RATIONALIZE the behavior. That’s the red flag. If you hear yourself rationalizing a behavior, you are convincing yourself to go against your own values. You aren’t rationalizing behavior that goes against my values or your neighbor’s values, you are rationalizing to yourself in order to make it OK to violate your own values. This was a major revelation for me.
The concept really hit home for me when I was working with a particularly difficult group. This group was always late. Management did not support the training. People drifted in and out and no one really paid attention. It was the worst group I ever encountered in a decade of training in industry. When I was getting ready for one of our sessions I thought, “Why am I bothering to prepare? They are never on time. They don’t really care. There is no good reason for me to spend time prepping for them.” Wow. Then it hit me. Being prepared and professional is important to me; it’s who I am! I was letting other people’s actions and attitudes influence my actions. I was letting them influence who I was and how I showed up in the world. Scary!
The phrase I use in leadership workshops is “Rationalization is bad judgment’s best friend.” We use bad judgment when we violate our own code of conduct and make it OK by rationalizing it. Rationalizing a behavior helps us sidestep that fact that we are using bad judgment.
Acting in alignment with the values on our Golden Ruler is acting with integrity. We are doing what we feel is right no matter what the circumstances are. Integrity is a solid, constant thing that lives within us. We are happier, more fulfilled, and more successful when we remember that we have the power to choose our actions no matter what the rest of the world is doing.
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