Making a difference

Although one’s values change over time, I think I can reasonably say that one value that has stuck with me throughout my life is my belief in the importance of making a difference. The earliest illustration of this occurred in my last year of high school when I was personally responsible for my high school not closing for a day as part of an anti-Vietnam war strike but instead dedicating the day to a group of “teach-ins” and discussions led by professors from the local university representing both pro-and anti-war positions. (Fairness always having been important to me!). I had a job in a campus book store and attended a rally designed to disrupt the local high schools as a means of protest, but I reasoned that people would just go off and play baseball or engage in some other meaningless activity and learn nothing about the war.

I presented my idea to the high school principal and he practically fell over himself to offer me the use of his office and telephone to organise this thing, which I did. When I later graduated, I recall the deputy principal jokingly (?) saying, “don’t come back as an outside agitator”, something I had no intention of doing since I couldn’t get out of there fast enough!

Continuous learning (& professional growth)

Actually, this example illustrates another of my lifelong values, continuous learning. I grew up in a house full of books with two professional parents (oral surgeon, prof of dentistry and economist, town planning expert) who instilled in me a love of learning. My father assembled high fidelity stereo equipment as a young man and was an early adopter of the computer, and my mother taught herself to use Excel in her 80’s having never used any software before in her life. The standards and expectations were high.

These two values combine in my work in a number of ways. A good example is the development of ethics ambassadors as a concept and a reality for several companies I have worked with. The use of “ethics ambassadors”, or employees who have a wide variety of day jobs and dedicate a small amount of their time in some way to improving and supporting the ethical culture and values of their organisation, is a way of making a difference to a many people in the organisation. It involves continuous learning on the part of both the ethics ambassadors themselves, and other employees for whom they act as a “train the trainer” force. To keep an ethics ambassador network alive, one must continuously supply them with new material that is interesting and inspiring. Conversely, listening to your ethics ambassadors will help you learn what is and isn’t working and supply new ideas that can be used to continuously improve your approach.

Do you share either of these values? If so, how do you see them playing out in your work?

Why values?

Richard Barrett's book Everything I Have Learned About ValuesEveryone has values, they are not only the source of our internal motivation and our decision-making but, as Richard Barrett explains in his new book, Everything I have learned about Values, they are the “energetic drivers of our aspirations and intentions”.

Perhaps that is what attracted me to working with values when I set out on my freelance journey after a long legal career. Values create energy, they stimulate connections between people and shared values in an organisation harness that energy and those connections to serve the highest purpose of that organisation.


What does that have to do with helping organisations improve their ethical cultures? That is easy! Have you ever tried to make an interesting presentation about a law? I have, more times than I would care to remember, because my “thing” as general counsel was an emphasis on preventative law. Get into too much detail about the fine points of contract law or the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and watch everyone’s eyes glaze over. So, I learned to ground our legal messages in values. When you enter into a contract with someone do you expect them to respect the contract? What values underpin that expectation?

What values do we share that would motivate us never to offer or accept a bribe? Who do you consider a role model and what values does that person represent? What does that have to do with conflicts of interest or gifts and entertainment policies?

These are questions that will engage any audience.

Why values?

I have done anti-bribery training everywhere from the boardroom to the purser’s office on-board a ship. I have discussed bribery and facilitation payments with people in many roles, such as maintenance engineers, sales and procurement people, factory workers, ships captains, managing directors, Board chairpersons, lawyers, HR staff, etc. and from many nationalities. THEY ALL SHARE ONE THING IN COMMON. Values. Maybe not exactly the same values. Maybe not the same interpretation of a value. But, everyone can talk about values.

That’s why I work with values.

AretéWork website is now live.

It has been a long time coming!

It is fair to say that it has taken quite a long time to develop and launch this website.  First, it took almost a year to find a name for my business.  One evening, listening with one ear to a BBC TV programme on philosophy, something about the Greek word “Areté” caught my attention and when I looked it up I discovered it described exactly what I was hoping to do with my business.  It means “excellence”, living up to one’s potential and virtue (ethics).  (Greek: ἀρετή),

And then there was the matter of the logo.  After various false starts, I discovered and sent my brief (including my favourite colours and my animal totem, the owl, as well as a few words about the business.  Designers from all over the world can respond, and several did. The one who came up with the winning concept was a 24-year-old from Monterrey, Mexico, and after a bit of tweaking, I was delighted with the approach, including the owl out on the limb, since sometimes you have to go out on a limb in order to do the right thing, and the general look and feel.

It is a work in progress to be sure, but now that it is out there, I can have fun working to evolve it.  One of my personal values is ease with uncertainty.  I am uncertain how you will respond, but looking forward to your comments and observations about the world of values-based ethics, leadership and related topics.  Please join the conversation.