Do morals and values need calibrating?

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Picture, courtesy of desert moon rising dot com

I recently entered into a discussion in one of the forums on Linkedin. That got me thinking and recalibrating my views on morals & values. The thread’s topic started with the question “How much are you respected as a consultant?” Someone posted: “Respect has nothing to do with performance. It’s a meaningless babble word like “trust, ethics, values and morals” -all which have numerous meanings”. Although the statement is correct, I was irked by the comment, as I believed that: “defining and sharing values is what holds societies together, it provides a yardstick against which we can judge intentions and actions. If we did not have any values or morals we could not differentiate good from bad”. My colleague and I had a good exchange but I had to admit that smoking marijuana in Texas is considered bad (jail) whilst in Colorado it is good, or at least legal. Morals, values and ethics are “babble” words – not convinced about trust just yet- that have different meanings depending on where you live and where you’re from.

It is true that different moral standards apply to different religion and tribes. A good example is homosexuality, (or sexual freedom). It is measured or ranked on a morality scale very differently in Saudi Arabia (Mecca the heart of Islam) than in Europe (the home of the Christians). Regardless which religion, religions have held the monopoly on morality matters throughout history. Interestingly enough the Jews, Christians and Muslims all share the same root and thus the “old testament”, where the guidelines are very clear:

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Courtesy PreSchools4All.com

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, religions and God have little in common. Religions are all lead by men; all claiming to be speaking the message of God. Although I not contesting the original message or intent of sharing the “message” with others, religions develop a life of their own. Even the seven deadly sins, although noble in their nature, are a fabrication of the church. History has taught us that power is addictive. Today it’s the politicians that get addicted to it, “power” is the drive behind the men who are behind the religions. Regrettably history has also taught us that power corrupts, and the religion’s elders seldom retire as Pope Benedict did. The system just isn’t perfect.

It just seems that once upon a time, value was measured differently; or maybe we just measured more things than just money. Perhaps it’s because presidents of companies did not make a thousand times the salary of their lowest paid employee. Of course you may argue that today’s CEOs generate perhaps a thousand times more value as an employee than the man on the assembly line; and that it is only fair to compensate him accordingly. Good point, if we take shareholder value as the only measure of success. Unfortunately this is the same logic (along with a few other things of course) that has lead China to become the world’s manufacturer, making things where it’s cheapest. How can Europe be facing some of the highest “youth unemployment” ever measured whilst the baby boomers are entering retirement age? Quite simply, the jobs have moved elsewhere because it’s good business, good for the bottom line. In today’s global economy, not only are you competing against the neighbour’s business from across the street, you compete with a business from across the world, and your neighbours are all over the globe. So the decision to move jobs abroad is relatively easy to make; in many cases it may even be imperative to a company and it’s business model’s, survival. It’s just about money and shareholder returns. There is no room for morality. Time goes by and as employees are victims of the circumstance, the greed slowly siphon’s away the jobs and economic activity these jobs provide. This is the kind of actions and reasoning behind paying CEOs large salaries. The only value that count’s today is money. Never mind honesty or integrity, mastery or excellence, reliability and trust are all just words that look good on the vision statement but are hard to recognize in every day actions.

I happen to live in Croatia, a young democracy with an abundance of natural resources; since it’s inception in 1991, the vast majority of politicians have demonstrated with their actions; that they care more about their own pockets than the people, and state, they are meant to represent. Not only did they managed to squander the previously state owned companies, they have indebted the country to the point that fiscal discipline, mandated by the EU, is now very painful. The answer has been to raise taxes; at 25%, we have one of the highest “Value Added Tax” in Europe; and things are not only taxed once, but every time they are resold. These policies are snuffing out any kind of economic spark and this is reflected in the low investment figures. As we watch the evening news report about the corruption trial of the ex-prime minister, Ivo Sanader, the country is facing tough economic times and millions of people are paying for his greed, whilst the people that supported him are living it up immune by their fattened wallets to the hardship their irresponsibility have caused. What is sad; is that Croatia is certainly not the only example.

Many will argue that we have more choice today than ever before. Choice means competition and competition means a better product for consumers. Thereby stimulating innovation, which spews out new products and more choice. Those who don’t adapt to the ever-changing conditions quickly go out of business. Industries become extinct, just like species in nature; essentially a kind of “economic evolution”, where the only law is the law of the jungle: survival of the fittest. It’s only fair to say that in such an environment, it’s not surprising that people start worshiping money rather than god, wrongfully believing that money is the only thing that makes you happy. In fact if we dig a little deeper we find that there are many things that we value in life; we just tend to forget them. They get lost in the rat race that has become our lives, juggling deadlines and priorities whilst constantly distracted by everything and everyone who is seeking our attention.

So to refresh our memories about what is valuable to individuals, and give you the opportunity to recalibrate your own priorities; I thought of sharing this values map (found at with an open heart dot org).

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Are you trustworthy?

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Recent events in my life have reminded me about the importance of trust. No matter what relationship you look at, business or personal, trust is the key component of its foundation.  No trust, no meaningful relationship; the importance of building trust cannot be underestimated.  Nevertheless, trust is not a subject that is taught, or even covered for that matter, in schools. Sure our parents, or elders, can talk about their experiences with the subject as they sum up what they have learned but it is generally abstract and not necessarily relevant to your own situation.

Fortunately research has been made on the subject. In their 2001 best selling book “The trusted advisor”, Charles H. Green, David H. Maister and Robert M. Galford present a simple, but effective, way to understand the dynamics of trust. Through their research the authors of the book have develop the “Trust Equation”. This simple formula covers the important components that dictate whether you will trust someone or not. The equation goes like this:

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By increasing the elements in the numerator you increase trust whilst by increasing the denominator you reduce or undermine trust.  Although the book was written with business relationships in mind, I have found that it applies to our personal lives as well.   But to really understand the formula we need to look at, and understand, all its variables.

Credibility – has to do with whether one can be believed or not.  Can one present credentials to support their credibility.  Although it is sometimes also referred to as “the words one speaks”, I find it important to consider the other aspects of communication as well.  Classical NLP (Neuro-linguistic Programming) emphasizes that words only make up a small portion of real communication. In his 1994 article, in Anchor Point magazine, Dr. Buzz Johnson claimed that words only make up 7% of communication intonation 38% and body language 55%.  Although more recent studies have challenged the accuracy of the results the concept remains valid: words make up a much smaller percentage than intonation and body language.  This is why I find that all three components of communication need to be considered. Let’s face it you may have a good story but if you are hesitant when you tell it, I will have a hard time believing you. Therefore intonation and body language are also important components of credibility.

Reliability – Has to do with your actions, can you be depended on to deliver what you promise. In business you can think of things like, being on time or following up and sending the material you promised. In your personal life, it often comes down to you being consequent. Are your kids or partner used to you saying something than doing something else or do they “know” that when you have said something you will not change your mind or soften up and cave in somewhere along the way.

Intimacy – has to do with your ability to connect with people and give them a sense of security. While I trained my fellow consultants I used to tell to develop their observation skills; pick up clues in someone’s office about themselves and their personal lives. This could be things like the diploma that hangs on their wall, which university is it from, perhaps you went to the same university; or a family picture, which enables you to ask about their kids and share your own experiences with children; or a vacation picture skiing and you are an avid skier yourself. Whatever the case, someone’s office generally holds clues about their personal lives and the fact that they are on display gives you permission to bring them into the conversation and explore how you can connect with them; ultimately raising the level of intimacy.

Self-orientation – has to do with where your focus lies, particularly with yourself. Since it is the denominator, the less self oriented you are, the better. You may have scored very well on all the variables above but if your counterpart has a sense that you are only thinking about yourself this will strongly undermine their trust in you. You probably have heard the saying: “The truth in selling is that you succeed more at sales when you stop trying to sell. When all you focus on is helping prospects, they trust you more and buy from you more as well.”[i]

In todays world of scams and politicians trust is hard to come by. It seems that greed, and or the hunger for power, will push people to, and often over, the limits of integrity and morals.  People get blinded by the illusion that money and wealth can bring them happiness, and will often sell their souls in the process; only to wake up one day in a big house and an empty life. Money can always buy you “fair weather friends” but it can’t buy you real friendship.