As an FBI agent, I quickly learned that the “needs of the Bureau” would always come first. Transfers, assignments and caseloads were handed out with little or no consideration for how they would impact the agent. We were given jobs that often seemed impossible to fit into one day (or one week), with little regard to the number of hours required to complete them.
Yet morale was always high. Sure, we complained and moaned at the inconvenience and joked that we’d crush under the weight of our responsibilities, but here was the thing: our values were in alignment with those of the FBI. As a result, our well-being never suffered even when working 24/7 on a child abduction, thwarting a terrorist threat or building firewalls around a sensitive computer system.
These were essential investigations, and the results mattered. Our well-being never suffered because we believed in our mission — to protect American citizens. We got it right, more often than not, and we were always ready to fight the next challenge. We were doing well as individuals, despite the heavy workload.
The FBI’s defining values are Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity. However, there are others such as honesty, compassion, fairness, courage and diligence, to name a few. We applied those values, first to ourselves and then to others.
Following clearly defined values makes a powerful impact, and it ripples into even wider circles because values are how we define our world. They are the foundation upon which we base our judgments on what is critical in life. It can take a strong mind to sort through the noise that competes for our attention.
What does that mean for today’s leaders when the workforce faces economic uncertainty, soaring energy prices and a lingering pandemic that can all threaten their sense of well-being?
The way we behave, how we live and work and our relationships with ourselves and others are all guided by the right values. Good values are the fundamental principles that provide us clarity of purpose, which nurtures well-being and gives us confidence because we live a meaningful life.
Here is how the right values help increase your well-being:
1. Love and take care of yourself
We may get tired of the repetitive airline briefings before flight take-off, but we must pull the oxygen mask over our own face before we try to assist the folks around us.
Thich Nhat Hanh once said, “Until we are able to love and take care of ourselves, we cannot be of much help to others.”
Unfortunately, self-care and narcissism have become conjoined in the mind of most people these days. Selfies and photos of our excellent life glut our social media feeds. We justify our “look at me” approach to life by reminding our critics that we want to connect with others. That’s great, but in our constant rush to project a carefully curated image of ourselves, we find ourselves connected to everyone except ourselves.
Most people believe they are self-aware. They know how they think, feel, and where they’re headed. But that is a band aid approach because self-love and self-respect require more than the fickle psycho-babble that passes for self-help wisdom. When we aren’t in touch with who we are and what makes us tick, our focus becomes superficial, roots are shallow, goals are self-centered and values turn out to be poor imitations of how other people live.
You are the most important person in your life. This is not self-centeredness; it is survival at its most basic level. Until you tend to the temple that is your mind and body, it won’t be easy to love and be of service to others. Our addiction to busyness and constant entertainment is not the real culprit — it’s our aversion to spending time with ourselves. We’d rather do anything than simply be, which is why meditation is both so hard and so important.
We can continue to ignore the twisted crap that makes up memory and conscience for a while, but it tends to rear its ugly head when we feel overwhelmed or stressed.
How To Make It Work For You: Spend some time in solitude. Stop using the world’s noise to block out the discomfort of being yourself. You’re human, meaning there’s a bit of sand mixed in with the gold. When you surround yourself with moments of solitude, you become more familiar with your interior environment. The layers start to peel back. Don’t be alarmed if some of the ugliness begins to surface because true well-being allows you to look honestly at the good, the bad and the ugly. It’s for you to examine the root causes of your thoughts and feelings and decide when and how you can scrap the parts that continue to weigh you down.
2. Recognize your own values
We all value something, but naming our values isn’t as easy as it sounds because it requires us to closely examine what governs our behavior. We may feel that we value a principle but we don’t really if we don’t incorporate it into the way we treat other people, or even ourselves! For example, we may say that we value the environment, but our lifestyle suggests otherwise. Likewise, we may value loyalty but find it easy to ditch a friend, family member or colleague when the chips are down or when it becomes inconvenient.
Values can change over time. While finances may not have been at the forefront in your younger life, now that you have a family, money becomes more important. You may find you value adventure more as your life’s circumstances change.
You must continually check in with yourself to ensure you’re still in touch with your North Star. What gives you meaning? What brings joy and contentment? If the answer to those questions revolves around material possessions and the power you exert over others, you’re still in second grade as a human being. In other words, you don’t have the right values.
The more we are aware of our values and their importance, the more constantly and effectively we will put them into practice. The more we practice the right values, the more positive impact we have on the well-being of ourselves and those around us. Every action does make a difference.
How To Make It Work For You:
Reflect on the past week and identify:
- A time you felt good about something you did.
- A time you felt wrong about something you did.
- When you admired your behavior or reaction.
- When you disliked your behavior or reaction.
- An occasion when you admired someone else’s behavior.
- An occasion when you disliked someone else’s behavior.
In short, identify what qualities you are responding to and then reflect how they impact your well-being.
3. Help employees find value in their work
Hard-working and talented employees will leave if they don’t feel the company respects their values. When leaders invest in employee well-being, they signal that they care whether the employees are flourishing in their situation.
As a leader, your job is to make sure you’re leading with good values and that you make them known in your workplace. Maybe not every employee will share your values or that of the organization, but when you place importance on their well-being you show respect for what is important to them. This helps improve staff retention and morale.
To make it easier for you as a leader, start with the hiring process to ensure that the people you hire are not only competent but also savvy about what is important to them. Then, when you lead with the right values, and clearly enunciate them, the rest will fall into place.
In today’s changing workplace landscape, it’s not uncommon for several generations to be working together. Each has different expectations and perhaps different values as well. To bridge those gaps, let them know you care about their well-being and how they are doing.
How To Make It Work For You:
- Refrain from pushing outcome-only metrics over other kinds of performance measures.
- Seek out former employees who can give an honest account of your workplace. Does well-being matter, or is the organization playing lip service?
- Help your employees think more deeply about the consequences of their actions — or inaction — by creating an environment where these discussions are welcome and supported by leadership. Bring in professionals who are capable of making those discussions realistic and constructive. This will assist them in identifying good values that will provide them a sense of well-being.
LaRae Quy was an FBI undercover and counterintelligence agent for 24 years, during which she exposed and recruited foreign spies and developed the mental toughness to survive in environments of risk, uncertainty and deception. Find out if you’re mentally tough with Quy’s FREE, evidence-based Mental Toughness Assessment. Quy’s new book is “Secrets of a Strong Mind (2nd edition): How To Build Inner Strength To Overcome Life’s Obstacles.” Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn.
Opinions expressed by SmartBrief contributors are their own.