Values and Stories

I recently read an article written by business management guru Patrick Lencioni called “Make Your Values Mean Something.” Lancioni breaks values into 4 distinct categories in order to distinguish “Core Values” from other types of values that might distract an organization if they are wrongly deemed “Core.” “Core values,” he says, “are the deeply ingrained principles that guide all of a company’s actions; they serve as its cultural cornerstones.” He points out the danger in not separating these core values from what he calls “Aspirational Values,” which more closely resemble long term goals for the company’s culture, “Accidental Values,” which aren’t defined by the leadership but grow from within a company’s culture over time, and “Permission-to-play Values,” which reflect minimal social standards and are so similar across companies that they don’t serve to distinguish one organization from another.

I had a conversation this week with some fellow educators from different districts across the region about the core values that shape our schools and communities. We discussed how to develop, promote, and maintain these values. One thing that came to light out of this conversation is that values are inherently story driven. In other words, if a core value is merely words on a page or a website and doesn’t shape the stories that are unfolding in your community, can it really be called a core value? Shouldn’t the members of a community be able to point to several stories of how the values are being lived out around them? As I sat with these educators and we talked about the core values that define our communities, it was impossible not to tell stories. Some stories demonstrated the powerful values that are truly guiding decisions and actions at the district and site level. Other stories showed the incongruity between the stated values and the actual actions of a community.

This got me thinking about our staff meetings. Right after school on the first Thursday of each month, every teacher shuffles into the library for a 1 hour meeting. These meetings begin with highlighting the story of a staff member, a sports team, or a club on campus. I’ve always enjoyed these times but until I stopped to think about it, I hadn’t realized how these 3-5 minute stories are actually chances that the leadership is taking to promote our core values. Last month it was Connie Somers. She has been teaching English at Del Oro and running the Yearbook program for the last 20+ years. One of the core values in our school is “Commitment to Student Empowerment.” As our principal told a bit of Connie’s story, he focused on the way that she has tirelessly empowered her yearbook editors and leaders to create an excellent product each year. This is so much more powerful and meaningful than simply having someone stand up and remind us that we “are a community that is committed to student empowerment.”  A good story calls and invites others into it. Connie empowers students. And as I get to hear a bit of her story, I want to empower students like she does.

As a leader, I want to be living, and telling, stories that embody the values of my community.

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