To be able to manage yourself, you finally have to ask, What are my values?
This is not a question of ethics.
With respect to ethics, the rules are the same for everybody, and the test is a simple one.
I call it the “mirror test.”
In the early years of this century, the most highly respected diplomat of all the great powers was the German ambassador in London.
He was clearly destined for great things—to become his country’s foreign minister, at least, if not its federal chancellor.
Yet in 1906 he abruptly resigned rather than preside over a dinner given by the diplomatic corps for Edward VII.
The king was a notorious womanizer and made it clear what kind of dinner he wanted.
The ambassador is reported to have said, “I refuse to see a pimp in the mirror in the morning when I shave.”
That is the mirror test.
Ethics requires that you ask yourself, What kind of person do I want to see in the mirror in the morning?
What is ethical behavior in one kind of organization or situation is ethical behavior in another.
But ethics is only part of a value system—especially of an organization’s value system.
To work in an organization whose value system is unacceptable or incompatible with one’s own condemns a person both to frustration and to nonperformance.
Consider the experience of a highly successful human resources executive whose company was acquired by a bigger organization.
After the acquisition, she was promoted to do the kind of work she did best, which included selecting people for important positions.
The executive deeply believed that a company should hire people for such positions from the outside only after exhausting all the inside possibilities.
But her new company believed in first looking outside “to bring in fresh blood.”
There is something to be said for both approaches—in my experience, the proper one is to do some of both.
They are, however, fundamentally incompatible—not as policies but as values.
▪ different views of the relationship between organizations and people;
▪ different views of the responsibility of an organization to its people and their development; and
▪ different views of a person’s most important contribution to an enterprise.
After several years of frustration, the executive quit—at considerable financial loss.
Her values and the values of the organization simply were not compatible.
Similarly, whether a pharmaceutical company tries to obtain results by making constant, small improvements or by achieving occasional, highly expensive, and risky “breakthroughs” is not primarily an economic question.
The results of either strategy may he pretty much the same.
At bottom, there is a conflict between a value system that sees the company’s contribution in terms of helping physicians do better what they already do and a value system that is oriented toward making scientific discoveries.
Whether a business should be run for short-term results or with a focus on the long term is likewise a question of values.
Financial analysts believe that businesses can be run for both simultaneously.
Successful businesspeople know better.
To be sure, every company has to produce short-term results.
But in any conflict between short-term results and long-term growth, each company will determine its own priority.
This is not primarily a disagreement about economics.
It is fundamentally a value conflict regarding the function of a business and the responsibility of management.
Value conflicts are not limited to business organizations.
One of the fastest-growing pastoral churches in the United States measures success by the number of new parishioners.
Its leadership believes that what matters is how many newcomers join the congregation.
The Good Lord will then minister to their spiritual needs or at least to the needs of a sufficient percentage.
Another pastoral, evangelical church believes that what matters is people’s spiritual growth.
The church eases out newcomers who join but do not enter into its spiritual life.
Again, this is not a matter of numbers.
At first glance, it appears that the second church grows more slowly.
But it retains a far larger proportion of newcomers than the first one does.
Its growth, in other words, is more solid.
This is also not a theological problem, or only secondarily so.
It is a problem about values.
In a public debate, one pastor argued, “Unless you first come to church, you will never find the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven.”
“No,” answered the other.
“Until you first look for the gate to the Kingdom of Heaven, you don’t belong in church.”
Organizations, like people, have values.
To be effective in an organization, a person’s values must he compatible with the organization’s values.
They do not need to he the same, but they must be close enough to coexist.
Otherwise, the person will not only he frustrated but also will not produce results.
A person’s strengths and the way that person performs rarely conflict; the two are complementary.
But there is sometimes a conflict between a person’s values and his or her strengths.
What one does well—even very well and successfully—may not fit with one’s value system.
In that case, the work may not appear to be worth devoting one’s life to (or even a substantial portion thereof).
If I may, allow me to interject a personal note.
Many years ago, I too had to decide between my values and what I was doing successfully.
I was doing very well as a young investment banker in London in the mid- 1930s, and the work clearly fit my strengths.
Yet I did not see myself making a contribution as an asset manager.
People, I realized, were what I valued, and I saw no point in being the richest man in the cemetery.
I had no money and no other job prospects.
Despite the continuing Depression, I quit—and it was the right thing to do.
Values, in other words, are and should be the ultimate test.
This world of the burgher and his community was small and narrow, short-sighted and stifling.
It smelled of drains and drowned in its own gossip.
Ideas counted for nothing and new ones were rejected out of hand.
There was exploitation in it and greed, and women suffered.
Like Grandmother’s silly feud over the apartment, it could be petty and rancorous.
But the values it had—respect for work and workmanship, and concern by the person for the person, the values that make a community—are precisely the values the twentieth century lacks and needs.
Without them it is neither “bourgeois” nor “Socialist”; it is “lumpen proletariat,” like the young lout with the swastika.
But what about those “Handles without Cups” and “Cups without Handles"?
How do they fit into the twentieth century, and what do they have to tell us?
I must admit that I could not fit them in for a long time.
Then ultimately, around 1955 or so, it dawned on me: Grandmother had had a premonition of genius!
In her primitive and unsophisticated way, she had written the first computer program.
Indeed her kitchen cabinet, with its full classification of the unnecessary and unusable, is the only “total information system” I have seen to this day.
Grandmother died as she had lived—creating a “Grandmother story.”
Running around as usual in every kind of weather, she stepped off the curb in a heavy rainstorm directly in the path of an oncoming car.
The driver managed to swerve around her but she fell.
He stopped the car and rushed to help her up.
She was unhurt but obviously badly shaken.
“May I take you to a hospital?” the driver said.
“I think a doctor should look at you.”
“Young man, you are very kind to a stupid old woman,” Grandmother said.
“But maybe you’d better call an ambulance.
It might compromise you having a strange woman in your car—you know how people talk.”
When the ambulance came, ten minutes later, Grandmother was dead of a massive coronary.
Knowing how fond I had been of her, my brother phoned me to give me the news.
He began in a somber tone. I have something very sad to tell you: Grandmother died earlier this morning.”
But when he began to tell me about her death, I heard a change come into his voice.
Then he started to laugh.
Only Grandmother could say that—a woman in her seventies compromising a young man by being in a car with him!”
I laughed too.
Then it occurred to me: a living seventy-five year old woman doesn’t compromise a young man—but how would he have explained an unknown old woman dead in his car?