V is for Following Your Values In A VUCA World


During the past 20 years many people have talked about living in a VUCA world. This is a world where situations can be volatile, uncertain, complex or ambiguous. Some events contain aspects of all four elements.

This world provides opportunities for people who stick to their values. It gives them the chance to translate these values into action in their daily lives and work.

At the same time, however, such a world can be frightening. This creates opportunities for demagogues who promise simplistic solutions or who create scapegoats. Some people yearn for a return to what they believed was a more predictable world.

In the video below Bob Johansen of the Institute of the Future, and David Small, Vice President of Global Talent Management at McDonald’s Corporation, explain this concept.

This video was recorded at the Center for Values-Driven Leadership’s Senior Executive Roundtable on June 16, 2011.

How can you live in such a world? How can you create a sense of stability? How can you deal with challenging events in the midst of what sometimes appears to be chaos?

As mentioned earlier, one way is to return to your deepest values. You can then translate these into a clear vision and deliver visible results. You can ask:

“What are the values that I believe are important in life? How can I follow these in my daily life and work?”

You can make these values the anchor for your life rather than be tossed around by events like a cork on the ocean. When in doubt, you can return to these values. These can provide stability in your life.

This approach also works in organisations. Over the years I have worked with many organisations that have asked: “How do we cope in such a world?”

The key has been to help them to return to their values. They have then focused on how follow them in their daily work. These values have provided a compass they can follow in a volatile world.

Many people took this step after the shocks provided by elections in Europe and the USA. After a period of mourning, they mobilised themselves by focusing on their deepest values. They then looked at how to translate these into action in their daily lives and work.

Some regained strength by spending time with their loved ones and appreciating the simple things in life. Some supported organisations that worked for decency and human rights. Some worked for movements that aimed to care for people and the planet.

Looking at your own life, what do you believe are the values that are important to follow? Different people give different answers to this question. Here are some that they give.

My Values: The values that I believe
are important to follow in life are:

To encourage people … To be kind … To care for my loved ones … To care for nature … To help people to fulfill their potential … To always do my best … To make beautiful things … To make a positive difference … To care for the planet … To build a better world for future generations.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific values that you want to follow in your life. 

Describe the specific reasons why you want to follow these values.




People sometimes say that they believe in certain values, but they may behave in ways that seem to contradict these beliefs. Therefore one view is that: “A value is not a value until it is lived.”

Some people therefore prefer to talk about virtues rather than values. The Oxford Dictionary definition of virtues is: “Behaviour showing high moral standards.”

Bearing this in mind, are there common behaviours that are admired across the world? Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterson explored this topic in their book Character Strengths and Virtues.

Working with a team of researchers, they studied the qualities of moral excellence that are admired across different philosophies, religions and cultures. These included looking at virtues in the following fields.

The Buddhist Tradition … The Taoist Tradition … The Hindu Tradition … The Christian Tradition … The Confucian Tradition … The Jewish Tradition … The Muslim Tradition … The Bahá’í Tradition … The Humanistic Tradition … The Altruistic Tradition.

The African Traditions … The Asian Traditions … The European Traditions … The North American Traditions … The South American Traditions … The Pacific Traditions … The Various Philosophical Traditions … The Traditions Embodied in Various Guilds, Professions and Social Movements.

The researchers interviewed over 15,000 people in different cultures. After extensive research, the team settled on six key virtues, though these are obviously interlinked. Martin Seligman writes. 

When we look we see that there are six virtues, which we find endorsed across cultures, and these break down into 24 strengths.

The six virtues that we find are non-arbitrary – first, a wisdom and knowledge cluster; second, a courage cluster; third, virtues like love and humanity; fourth, a justice cluster; fifth a temperance, moderation cluster; and sixth a spirituality, transcendence cluster.

We sent people up to northern Greenland, and down to the Masai, and are involved in a 70-nation study in which we look at the ubiquity of these. Indeed, we’re beginning to have the view that those six virtues are just as much a part of human nature as walking on two feet are.

Below is a summary of their findings. You can discover more via the following link.




Whether you prefer the term values or virtues, the key is to translate these into action. Imagine, for example, that you want to follow the Dalai Llama’s approach and try to be kind. How can you make this happen?

You may want to show kindness to your child, partner and colleagues at work. How can you encourage these people? How can you help them to feel the centre of your world? How can you help them to achieve their picture of success in life?

Some people express their values by translating these into a clear vision. They then pursue this aim and, if appropriate, sometimes get visible results.

Mary Gordon showed kindness by creating the organisation called Roots of Empathy. The organisation’s mission is to build caring, peaceful and civil societies through the development of empathy in children and adults.

The programme involves bringing a local baby into the classroom. The children then learn how to understand and care for the needs of another human being.

The Roots of Empathy programme has spread to many countries. It has produced remarkable results in enabling children to become more caring, peaceful and able to solve problems. This has also reduced aggression, bullying and other social problems.

Below is a video that provides an insight into the approach. You can also discover more on the organisation’s web site.


Chad Varah, an Anglican clergyman, showed kindness by founding the Samaritans in 1953. Suicide was illegal at the time and he felt something could be done to help people in distress.

Here is some more background about the Samaritans. This comes from the official website and you can discover more via the following link.


The first funeral Chad Varah took as a curate prompted his lifelong commitment to suicide prevention and education.

The funeral was for a 13-year-old girl who had taken her own life because she feared she was seriously ill; in fact she had started to menstruate.

Chad vowed at her graveside to devote himself to helping other people overcome the sort of ignorance and isolation that had ultimately caused the young girl’s death.

In the early 1950s, three suicides a day were officially recorded in Greater London; suicide was still an illegal act and sex education hardly existed.

Chad advertised in the press for people to help – not as trained counsellors, but as ordinary human beings offering a listening ear and emotional support. 

Inundated with offers of help, he opened the first drop-in centre where emotionally isolated and distressed people could go to find a sympathetic ear – and Samaritans was born.

Chad continued to run Samaritans until 1987, thereafter remaining an active member of the organisation and retaining a watchful eye over it even after his retirement.

Samaritans found that providing a listening ear could enable people to take more charge of their lives. Chad’s pioneering work created a caring framework that enabled many people to live more fulfilling lives.

Below is an interview with Duncan Irvine in which he describes his personal experience of being helped by the organisation. Duncan is now a volunteer with the Central London branch of the Samaritans.

Good organisations also often go back to their values during volatile times. Recently I worked with one organisation that took this step. Bearing in mind the changes in their market, they wanted to explore the following question.

“What are the specific things we can do to achieve ongoing success?”

The organisation began by revisiting the values they believed in. These were:

To act as trusted advisors.

To clarify the customer’s goals.

To use our expertise to help the customers to achieve success.

Being a business, they needed to do this in a way that benefited the customers and also helped them to develop as an organisation.

Bearing this in mind, I asked people to revisit their positive history. They were invited to explore the following themes. 

The specific times when we have followed our values and helped our customers to achieve success. 

The specific things we did then to follow our values and help our customers to achieve success.

The specific things we can do follow these values in the future and help our customers to achieve success.

Doing these exercises convinced people that they wanted to follow these values. These would provide something constant – a common compass – that they could keep referring to during volatile times. People then made concrete plans for pursuing these principles with customers.

There are many ways to react to events. One approach is to return to your deepest values and translate these into action.

Looking ahead, can you think of a value that you would like to follow? How can you translate this value into action? How can you start small, for example, and then expand how you live the value in your daily life and work?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe the specific value you would like to follow and translate into action.

Describe the specific things you can do to translate this value into action.

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of translating this value into action.




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