A vision of a greater meaning

I make a bold claim for the ELECTIA approach to decision-making: that it will help you to make decisions that are smarter, bolder and more meaningful. If you’ve read my other articles, you’ll probably recognise that “smarter” comes from the Well-grounded and Pragmatic aspects of the framework, whilst “bolder” clearly comes from the Bold aspect.

What about “more meaningful”? What part of the ELECTIA framework makes our decisions more meaningful? The answer is: from the aspect Aligned to vision and values.

Within the ELECTIA framework, “vision” refers to our long-term goals or objectives, our purpose, our mission. Our vision is where we are aiming to go, our intended destination; it is therefore sometimes also called a “true north”. Here are some examples of visions that individuals might choose to hold:

Blog 8 media visions

Our “values” are the guiding principles that we hold that shape our behaviours. They are our code of conduct, our moral compass. Here are some examples of values:

Blog 8 media values

In the same way that a real compass points towards magnetic north, our moral compass, that is our values, should point towards our true north, our stated objective or purpose, our vision. For an individual or an organisation therefore, vision and values need to be aligned. Imagine trying to achieve the vision of becoming a millionaire and retiring to a luxury mansion in the south of France if one of your values was self-sacrifice, always putting the needs of others ahead of your own.

Similarly, there needs to be some alignment, or at least no incompatibility, between the vision and values of an individual and the vision and values of an organisation for which they work. Imagine a nun working for an investment bank.

Both individuals and organisations may have a vision and values. Most organisations have clear mission or vision statements, and many also have stated values. We’re all very familiar with this; in fact, we expect organisations, countries and great leaders to have visions and values.

Walt Disney, founder of what is today the Walt Disney Company, the largest media group in the world by revenue, said: “When your values are clear to you, making decisions becomes easier.”

The Walt Disney Company’s stated mission is: “to always deliver, with integrity, the most exceptional entertainment experiences for people of all ages.”  And its stated values are: integrity, honesty, trust, respect, playing by the rules, and teamwork.

Yet how many of us, as individuals, stop to think about our own personal vision and values?

In my experience, not very many of us.

So what happens if we haven’t thought about and chosen our vision and values?

It is impossible, or at the very least highly improbable, to have no purpose and no values when we make decisions. If we don’t give thought to and choose our vision and our values, we will instead default.

To be specific, if we don’t consciously choose a vision for ourselves then we may:

  • Default to purposes or goals based on basic biological or evolutionary needs; to survive, to protect and feed ourselves, to find a mate and reproduce, etc.
  • Default to simple, generic goals based on the expectations of our parents or the norms of the society in which we were raised, for example: “be an obedient child”, “get grade A’s”, “earn lots of money”.
  • Default to adopting someone else’s vision. In this case, it may be that we are being exploited by that person or organisation.

Similarly, if we don’t think about and consciously choose our values, we will default to the values that we internalised while growing up, which are usually the values of our parents, or to the values of the society in which we live.

So if we want to have clearly defined goals that are greater than either the basic, natural motivations of biology or evolution, or the simple, generic expectations of others, then we need to empower ourselves to consciously consider and select the vision and values by which we want to live.

What are the benefits of proactively choosing our vision and values?

Whether we are individuals pursuing our own personal vision, or members of an organisation who are aligned to the vision and values of the organization of which we are a part, being committed to and working towards a clear vision, and being aligned to strong values, provides us with:

1) A focus on what’s really important to us, allowing us to deliver what matters and not be distracted by irrelevancies.

In his book “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People“, Stephen Covey’s second habit is to “begin with the end in mind“, that is: “to start with a clear understanding of your destination“, “to know where you’re going…so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.” This is the same thing as having a vision.

On this, Stephen Covey says: “It’s incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busy-ness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it’s leaning against the wrong wall. How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and when, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most.”

2) A greater sense of meaning, passion, satisfaction and fulfillment. This applies whether the vision and values are personal or organisational, so for organisations, a mission or vision statement and a statement of organizational values will drive better employee engagement, as long as sufficient effort and skill is put into their development and promotion. This greater sense of meaning will in turn drive…

3) Increased productivity. The behavioral economist Dan Ariely has shown in a number of experiments that people are more productive when they perceive there to be greater meaning in a task. In addition, a meta-analysis of 45 studies, together looking at over 11,000 employees, found a significant correlation between the employees’ “hope”, which is their focus on and expectation of achieving specific goals, and their work performance.

4) Increased emotional and physical resilience and greater perseverance. Friedrich Nietzsche, the German philosopher, said: “He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”

5) Better long term health. A number of research studies have linked having a sense of purpose to better long term health, for example to reduced depression and anxiety. Epidemiological studies have shown that people who have a purpose are significantly less likely to die from Alzheimer’s disease or to have a heart attack.

How does having a vision and values support better decision-making?

As described above, a clear vision and values allows us to remain focused on what really matters and to quickly rule out decisions or options that either aren’t relevant to our goals or aren’t in keeping with our principles.

We will rarely have a detailed plan or route map to take us from where we are today to our vision. Even if we think that we have a clear path to our vision, unexpected obstacles and circumstances will usually require us to change course, to find other routes.

Stephen Covey again: “We are more in need of a vision or destination and a compass (a set of principles [or values]) and less in need of a road map. We often won’t know what the terrain ahead will be like or what we will need to go through it; much will depend on our judgement at the time. But an inner compass will always give us direction.”

The ELECTIA framework guides us to ensure that we make decisions that are aligned to our vision and our values by asking the following questions:

  • How does this decision contribute to the goal, mission or purpose that I want to achieve? How much time and thought should I dedicate to making this decision in light of its relative contribution to achieving my vision?
  • Of the options available, which help me move towards my vision? Which don’t? Which are in alignment with my chosen values? Which aren’t?

So if you haven’t already thought about and chosen your vision and values…

How do individuals or organisations choose their vision and their values? It requires a lot of deep thought and reflection, and therefore isn’t usually something that can be done quickly.

For individuals, one approach is to visualise, really clearly and vividly, your own funeral and to imagine the speeches that would be made by your family, friends and colleagues. What would you want those speakers to say about you, about your achievements and about the way in which you led your life?

And how do you know whether or not your chosen vision is meaningful? Meaning, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder; what you consider to be meaningful, I may not, and vice versa. However your vision and values should feel meaningful to you, otherwise you won’t get all the benefits of having your chosen vision that are described above.

Something to consider is the finding by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, the famous Hungarian psychologist who developed the concept of Flow, that many of the most successful and well-regarded CEOs have visions, both personal and for their organisations, that are focused on both self-fulfillment and doing good for society. Maybe this provides a good definition of “more meaningful” for the rest of us.

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