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Our Values Set Our Priorities

by Jim Clemmer

"Don't part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live." — Mark Twain, 19th century American humorist

Our values are what we value. Each of us has a hierarchy of values. This is our sense of what's most through to what's least important. Our values hierarchy is a lengthy one. It includes things like, health, family, security, wealth, cooperation, competitiveness, meaningful work, peace of mind, making a difference, friendships, innovation, status, happiness, freedom, adventure, spirituality, power, accomplishment, wisdom, love, creativity, integrity, participation, service, loyalty, pride, progress, teamwork, growth and development, helping others, physical or sensory pleasures, quality, order, control, respect, self-image, and the like.

Our values hierarchy sets our priorities. It determines where we spend our time. For example, do we choose to watch TV or invest that time in personal improvement? Do we sleep longer or go jogging? Do we spend time with our family or take on that extra project with heavy out of town travel? Do we take personal glory or share the recognition with our team? Do we trade up to that larger house now or invest that extra money to reap compounded financial rewards later? Who gets invited to important meetings? Which items get highest priority on the agenda? How much time is spent with customers and those doing the serving? These are important questions because we invest our time in those areas we value most.

Our values can conflict with each other. They create many paradoxes to be balanced and managed. For example, business success and family time are both high on my values hierarchy. One evening when our son Chris was about two and half years old, I was heading out the door on another trip, Chris turned in his high chair, focused his big blue eyes up at me and asked, "Are you going home now daddy?" (about six months later I called Heather from my hotel room. His younger sister Jennifer answered the phone and asked, "Are you my real daddy?" If Heather and I didn't have such a close and trusting relationship, I might begin to wonder...).

The conflict between my business and family has been my biggest values conflict. Both are important to me. But at that point in my life, I was drifting toward becoming a business success and a family failure. Unless I changed, I would become "Uncle Dad" and Heather would be a single mother with a part time husband dropping in occasionally. To change that, I put a "personal travel policy" in place that said I wouldn't be away from home on Friday, Saturday, or Sunday night. I would also keep trips to no more than three nights away at one time.

Over the years I have missed out on speaking, workshop, and retreat business using this approach. At times I haven't looked very responsive or accommodating to important customers (another key value of mine). But that travel change and moving my office into our house improved our family time. And my business has prospered.

Jim Clemmer may be contacted at

Jim Clemmer is an internationally acclaimed keynote speaker, workshop/retreat leader, and management team developer on leadership, change, customer focus, culture, teams, and personal growth. His web site is


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