I’ve been very lucky throughout my career to be attracted to jobs and opportunities where I’ve worked with people who share my values and life principles. There have been times when I’ve engaged in project work with players who were clearly not values-aligned with me . . . and much learning resulted!

I have bragged about one of my best bosses, Jerry Nutter  (a long time executive with YMCAs in California) in previous posts. Jerry taught me to observe others’ behavior as “that will give you insights into their values” and to surround myself with values-aligned people. “Life is too short,” Nutter explained, “to do otherwise.”

Day-to-Day Decisions and Behavior Reveal Values

You likely have seen these behaviors in the workplace during your career:

  • engaging in gossip
  • withholding information from peers to make oneself look better/smarter/more productive
  • teasing and/or making fun (sometimes in the name of “team-building” <sigh>)
  • complaining about someone’s behavior to a peer, team lead, or boss without going directly to that person to address the concern

These and dozens of other similar behaviors happen in organizations every day. If your organization’s has not intentionally defined their desired culture and values base, norms often evolve that tolerate (and even support) behaviors like these.

Decisions reveal values in the workplace, as well. If you’ve had a boss belittle a team member (in front of them or behind their back), take credit for work others have done, or promised to do “X” yet moments later did the exact opposite, you are seeing the values they embrace.

The Hole In One

I experienced an epiphany about values mis-alignment years ago on the golf course. A work colleague and I enjoyed golf, and began playing together at a local course on Saturdays. This colleague (let’s call him Bill) had a reputation in the company for making fast decisions that served him and his team well . . . even if it meant stepping on toes. I’d seen Bill publicly belittle others more than once, so had that gnawing feeling in my gut about this gentleman’s values. I was always on guard around Bill, even outside the workplace.

We approached the par 3 17th hole and Bill set up his tee shot. He pushed the ball into the greenside creek. He cursed up a storm while placing another ball on the tee. He swung and hit a very nice shot towards the pin. It took one bounce and dove into the cup!

I said, “Nice par!” Bill’s first ball in the water cost him a penalty stroke, so he was hitting his third stroke on the tee. Bill looked at me angrily and said, “I’m taking that as a hole in one!” I was not surprised at Bill’s self-serving stroke tallying . . . but realized at that moment that I was at fault by spending time on the golf course with someone whose values were very different than mine. I fixed that immediately – I preferred playing golf with strangers than with Bill.

Do The Right Thing for Your Sanity, Productivity, and Spirit

Being around values mis-aligned people lowers trust, discretionary energy, and performance. Our research suggests three key steps to values-aligned experiences:

  1. Be clear on your own values. Define the behaviors you will demonstrate when you are living your values, and take time regularly to reflect on how you’re doing with modeling those valued behaviors.
  2. Observe the decisions and behaviors of others. It is not your responsibility to change their values, but it is up to you to insulate yourself from those whose values are inconsistent with your own.
  3. Actively cherish and celebrate the people around you who DO share your values.
S. Chris Edmonds

S. Chris Edmonds

Chris helps leaders create purposeful, positive, productive work cultures. He's a speaker, author, and executive consultant. He blogs, podcasts, and video casts. He is the author of The Culture Engine and six other books.
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Reader Interactions


  1. AvatarTanmay Vora says

    Great post Chris – I have seen a lot of people whose inherent value system keeps changing as they meet new people. When one is not strong individually and is not conscious about values they want to live with – it is easy to get distracted.

    For all such folks out there, your post is a great reminder.



    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      I have seen that, as well, Tanmay. People can find themselves in difficult circumstances because they were not paying attention to the values of those in their current circle!

      Thanks for your insights –



  2. AvatarBrad Harmon says

    What great advice you received from your former boss. What I love about this article is that it shows the reader just how much they are in control. We so often spend time complaining about people like Bill, but we never stop and realize that we are at fault for choosing to spend our time with him. Great post.

    • Chris EdmondsChris Edmonds says

      Thanks, Brad – we do have control of many things, including what we spend our time doing and who we spend time with. If those things/people aren’t aligned with our values, we deserve exactly what we get – eroded passion, performance, and clarity.



  3. AvatarSharon E. Reed says

    Great post, Chris. Not long ago a friend shared his own story of misaligned values in a friendship, also revealed on the golf course. The resulting impact? Diminished trust and a sense of being ‘robbed’ of good, productive energy. Thanks, as always, for your wisdom and insights on values-aligned living and leadership.

    • S. Chris EdmondsS. Chris Edmonds says

      Thank you, Sharon! Golf is a sport where one’s integrity is there for the world to see.

      I LOVE the concept of one being robbed of good productive energy – immensely powerful!

      I appreciate you, my friend.