Imagine you are working for a civilian employer and your boss asks you to help a colleague get up to speed on a critical project in the company. This person will serve as a spokesperson for the company, publicly representing the values of the business.
Based on your interactions with this colleague, you have developed a strong opinion about their character and beliefs. You believe your values directly conflict with what this colleague stands for, advocates on behalf of, and represents in your company.
What would you do?
This situation actually happened to me. I was asked by one of my biggest clients to help onboard a new senior executive to the company and train them on the values, brand, and vision the company was moving toward.
Here's how I evaluated my options in this situation:
- I could decline the opportunity, risking my long-standing relationship with this client. Taking the assignment could negatively impact my reputation if my client felt I'd put a stake in the ground unnecessarily.
- I could give less than 100% to this effort and just "go through the motions" to make the client happy. This option would be in conflict with my values, which are anchored in integrity and generosity. So this option was eliminated.
- Or, I could take the assignment and proceed with caution, ensuring I did my work to the best of my ability, but not compromise my values, integrity, or ethics.
In my case, I decided to proceed with eyes wide open. I felt confident I could identify any compromise of my values and terminate the engagement if I felt I was being asked to do something I could not support.
I viewed this situation as a learning experience — an opportunity to step out of my comfort zone, learn how I can handle such a challenge, and grow as a professional. This proved good thinking! When I met with this executive, I candidly shared my hesitation about working with him, and he completely understood. We navigated the job I needed to do with him and he was transparent about his position and goals.
Looking back, I am proud that I was able to move through a situation that, on the surface, I would have been justified walking away from. I grew and stretched my limits while still maintaining focus on my reputation, beliefs and values.
The military is a values-rich environment. You have aligned your personal values with that of your mission. If you have made the transition to your civilian career, have you encountered a situation at work where someone's values conflict with your own? Did you work through it? Were the reasons strong enough to walk away?