written by Nathan Vanderpool
Example: 🌳 Honesty
You're a good person, and your team is full of good people. The work you do is important, and needs to be guided by your core values. So you have a team meeting and decide that honesty is essential to everyone involved. That's a clear team value right? Job done. You picked a word!
Oxford English Dictionary
Honesty, n. the quality of being honest.
🙄 Ok, how about…
- free of deceit; truthful and sincere. "I haven't been totally honest with you"
- morally correct or virtuous. "I did the only right and honest thing"
- fairly earned, especially through hard work. "he's struggling to make an honest living"
- done with good intentions even if unsuccessful or misguided. "he'd made an honest mistake"
Even in the dictionary, honesty has multiple meanings. And in practice, personal approaches to being honest can look quite different. Using Human Systems methods, I tracked what kinds of honesty are important to the members of my team (as opposed to dictionary definitions):
What way of being honest is important to you?
Anne: speaking about what's up like it's no big deal
Serge: owning your mistakes and shortcomings
Joe: meeting a person rather than a task, plan, or desire
Nathan: examining my emotional life and inner landscape
Let's call that...
yes, I stole the cookie
Clearly, people on my team could have used different words. They might have gone with authenticity, connection, integrity, openness, surrender, sobriety, spontaneity, vulnerability. But they might not have all agreed on any one of these other words as a "core team value".
And the definition problem runs even deeper. Honesty is a noun. But what about being honest (an adverb)? What phrase—in Human Systems terms, what 🌳 personal value—captures the way you direct your attention when you're approaching life that way? Here, the true diversity of my team's values comes into focus:
Anne's Value: "pedestrian straight-talk" — speak about what's up like it's no big deal; it's just how things happen to be.
🌳 honesty: explore the complexity (and often absurdity) of how you and others view the situation, and how your desires and feelings interact
- also a form of: surrender, authenticity, sobriety
Serge's Value: "yes... i stole the cookie" — owning your mistakes and shortcomings
🌳 honesty: receive critical feedback without becoming defensive. search for what the person is telling you is important to them, and honor that as sacred
- also a form of: openness, vulnerability, integrity
Joe's Value: "facing people" — meeting a person rather than a task, plan, or desire
🌳 honesty: notice the emotional state of the person in front of you, and how you feel about the relationship; use that information to respond to the moment
- also a form of: connection, integrity, spontaneity
Nathan's Value: "feelings research" — examining my emotional life and inner landscape
🌳 honesty: speak about the physical sensations in your body as well as the needs, fears, and desires that they seem to indicate
- also a form of: authenticity, vulnerability, connection
If you rely on the dictionary definition of honesty, you miss what your team actually cares about. You might design an org structure that is:
- free of deceit; truthful and sincere
but makes no room for "facing people". You could plan a meeting that is:
- morally correct or virtuous
but doesn't facilitate "pedestrian straight-talk". It's easy to see how your team's core value of honesty can become an empty word.
The diversity of 🌳 personal values is one of the strongest features of your team. And not being clear about what really matters to your team is one of your biggest potential weaknesses. When personal values are suppressed, people become frustrated, hopeless, and disengaged. But if everyone's contribution feels like an expression of their true selves, the work you do together will feel meaningful, and your collective passion and creativity will be unleashed.