‘Andrew Macdonald-Brown has had a 30 year career in education working in the UK, Middle East and in China.  As a senior leader, and most recently as a Principal, he has developed a strong belief in the importance of professional learning for those in education.   Having facilitated on a number of leadership development programmes, and having recently completed his professional coaching training, Andrew is now a full-time professional Co-Active® coach; working with teachers, school leaders and other education professionals.  In this article Andrew shares how identifying and deepening our understanding of our values can help Teacher Horizons educators to make better decisions and enhance their sense of wellbeing. 

Articulating your values

‘Do you know what I mean?’ 

I am sure you may have seen it, a LinkedIn profile summary that notes a ‘values driven professional with a proven record of……’?  You may well have seen a Mission statement that mentions ‘values’ and may even lists them; or perhaps you’ve heard a senior leader talk about how their organisation ‘lives their values’.

I am certainly not questioning the value of values here. Far from it.  I do have some questions about clarity though:

  • How clear are we on what these references to ‘values’ actually are?  
  • What do they mean by ‘values’?
  • What do they actually look like in practice?  
  • How do we see them (or not) in a person’s behaviour and interactions?  
  • What do they really mean to us individually?
  • How can they serve us positively?  

Could you articulate what your values are? I mean really articulate (not just list them)?

Some time ago I was asked to do just this… in two ways:

  1. As a school leader I tasked our leadership team, with our community, to identify what stakeholders (students, teachers, professional support staff, parents) felt our values were.  What did the school stand for?  What was most important?  What did we actually (or want to) give time and space to?
  1. As an individual, I was in the process of completing my professional coaching training.  Part of this included a section in the course where I was asked to reflect on what my values were, both personally and professionally (not that there is necessarily a difference, but it was helpful to consider values from both professional and personal perspectives)

It’s the latter that this post is going to focus on…..

Change, uncertainty, and finding your ‘constant’ (wellbeing)

Let’s face it, the world has always had a degree of uncertainty.  Change is messy, it is often needed, and part of the process is going to be uncertain.  Add a small dose of Covid-19 into the mix and you can magnify that sense of uncertainty.

If only we had a crystal ball to tell us ‘What next’?

What does it feel like being less sure about something?  How much more challenging has it become to make plans? How much more unpredictable do some things seem that were once ‘dead certs’? 

In all this flux, its often one’s values that remain relatively constant and predictable.  Indeed, some clients I coach have said that 2020 has helped magnify and clarify what is really important to them. 

Have you felt a shift in this?  Are you making decisions that are based a bit more on what is really important to you?  Have you become more driven by what your instinct, intuition and ‘gut’ tells you?  Have you found yourself in situations recently where the compromises you were are you were once willing to make are no longer compromises you are prepared to make now?  These are all signs that your values are present.  Even if you can’t clearly articulate them.

Resonance, coaching and values

If you can’t clearly articulate your values, or if you want to deepen your understanding of them and how they can serve you, coaching can help.  It helped me for sure!  When you are partnering with a coach you will sometimes get a strong sense of what is really important to you through scaffolded and structured questioning.  When there is a powerful and positive emotion associated with a response to a question, a scenario or issue a coach will sometimes refer to this as being in ‘resonance’ in this kind of situation.  Usually we associate resonance with a strong connection to our values and sense of purpose. 

Being asked questions like ‘Who are your role models, and what is it about them that make them your role models?’,  or ‘What do /would you give time to if you had full choice and autonomy?’  can help you tease out some of what your values are.

Okay, but so what?’ I hear you say…..

Values as a magnetic north – knowing what the right thing feels like beginning to be clearer about your values is important because they are like a moral compass.  

You know when a decision or choice just doesn’t feel right?  Logic and evidence may say otherwise but something is telling you this just doesn’t fit…..

There’s a sense of being a bit uncomfortable and what is in front of you seems out of alignment….

All these are characteristics of where your values are shaping some subtle and deep-rooted criteria for making the right choices and decisions based on what is important and right for you.

Having clarity about what your values is helpful. Asking yourself ‘To what extent am I honouring may values?’ is powerful!

Values, Super Heroes and Saboteurs  

Of course, having a sense of what the right choice is (being underpinned and driven by your values) is only part of the puzzle.  

A while ago I posted about some interesting research that the BBC was referencing related to the benefits of having an ally or allies in the shape of an internal positive persona. The article talked about the ‘Batman Effect’.   The opposite side to this is that there are also more negative personas, and we all have them.

We know from neuroscience that are brains are hard wired to protect us from the dangers that our ancestors faced.  The flight-fight-freeze part of our brains are well developed in childhood as we experience life and create powerful and persuasive mindsets associated with risk and change.  As a result we tend to resist change and our limiting beliefs arise in character form:

  • A ‘Judge persona’’ might whisper…. ‘You are not good enough’. ‘They are not good enough’.  ‘It is not good enough/ worth it’.
  • A ‘Perfectionist persona’ might whisper…. ‘If it can’t be done just they way you want it, then don’t do it’. ‘I want it done THIS way, or we are not doing it at all’.
  • A ‘Workhorse persona’ might whisper…. ‘You must work really hard, long hours and give up other things in order to achieve what is needed’.  ‘You will be judged by others if you don’t dedicate much of your time to this thing’.

Do you recognise any of these in yourself?  There are many others.

The point here is that your limiting beliefs are like saboteurs.  They limit your growth because they gravitate you towards the status quo.  They resist positive change.

Coaching can help you recognise these internal personas and how they manifest themselves.  In doing so, you can develop strategies to ‘turn their volume down’ so they don’t ‘hold you down’.  There is some science behind this and I’ve shared this in a previous post

So, the ability to turn what is important to us (our values) is enhanced when we also recognise (and manage) our limiting beliefs.

Birds of a feather – finding alignment

Some time ago I came across a post on LinkedIn that struck me.  It illustrated the idea that value is very much contextual, and at an organisational level – cultural.  It can be measured in different ways, and what we hold to be of value is not always so for others.  Sometimes we know when we ‘fit in’ and sometimes when we don’t.  

When working in an organisation we can ask ourselves how aligned our values with those of the organisation.  On an individual level, whilst we are often drawn to those with similar interests to ourselves, it’s not always true that we are drawn to those that are like us – sometimes opposites attract.  Regardless, I suspect many would acknowledge that we are often drawn to those who hold similar values to ourselves.

The story below offers an illustration of values and how we see value.

A father said to his daughter “You have graduated with honours.  I want to give you a gift. 

In the garage is a car I acquired many years ago. It is several years old. But before I give it to you, can you take it to the used car lot and tell them I’m thinking of selling it – see how much they offer you.”

The daughter went to the used car lot, returned to her father and said, “They offered me £300 because they can’t really sell it, but could use it for scrap.” 

The father said, ”Take the car to the pawn shop and see what they offer you.”

The daughter went to the pawn shop, returned to her father and said, ”The pawn shop offered £0.  They said it really wasn’t worth their while taking in on.” 

The father asked his daughter to go to a car club and show them the car. The daughter took the car to the club, returned and told her father, ”Some people in the club offered £50,000 for it since it’s a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought after by many.”

The father said to his daughter, ”The right place values you the right way,” If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. Never stay in a place where no one sees your value” 

Andrew is now living in Australia with his family and you can find out more about him here and on his website.


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