The Devil is in the Detail: Aligning Values with Career Goals

By Lisa Tarry, Careers & Corporate Relations Manager MBA Programs, Management Education, at the University of Sydney Business School

Lisa TarryWorking as a coach to MBA students is a very rewarding role in that I help to figure out what shape their career paths might take. Each week I work with driven, focused, smart, funny, engaging, respectful human beings who are full of ideas and initiatives. And the best part? They constantly challenge me to do more, to do better, to think bigger and vice versa. Sure they have high expectations, but the joy is in working with them to craft outcomes, then gather feedback and tweak it to ensure it’s always relevant.

There is a risk in being tempted to switch off and enjoy the ride, by giving in to the demanding schedule of coaching, events, workshops and the day-to-day operations of a University Business School. That risk is that I miss capturing many of the lessons we learn together.

So this week, working with one aspiring entrepreneur, I was mindful of the ethical dilemma she was faced with as multiple offers of work came through, and she scheduled a call with me to discuss the specifics.

Should she take the role that wasn’t quite right, but that would pay her whilst she worked on her business?

On the surface, this might seem straightforward. Take the best role whilst working on your idea in the background. However, when you’re building a business, you need to think carefully about the implications for your personal brand and reputation. In the next breath she shared that if the right opportunity were then to emerge, it would make sense to take that and walk away. This is what didn’t sit right with either of us.

Honesty becomes one of your most important commodities. You must navigate seamlessly through these situations to arrive at an outcome that suits both parties; it can also set the tone for your future business dealings. How will you advise your staff in the future; what examples will you set as your business grows?

We are tested in these seemingly inane scenarios, yes, for the devil is in the detail, but also for the ability to cut through it and get to the issue.

We need to get clear on our values and show up in the world fully aligned with what drives us and why. Then trust that the rest will fall into place.

For this particular person, it was important for her to feel alive and to be overflowing with love and passion for life, work and her personal world.

The key here was for her to maintain this by owning the empowering act of starting her own business and using this to manifest how she wants to feel, and create the experiences in her life at both a personal and professional level.

Next, we acknowledged that she performs at her best when she is achieving and contributing to the communities around her.

If this spirit of serving others is out of alignment, her world will not be right. Sharing her situation honestly with the company presenting the opportunity, was the respectful thing to do – “I’d love to take it on and help you out, but it’s not quite what I’m looking for.  There are other opportunities that may come through and if they do, I would need to give you notice. How could that work for you?”

We also took into consideration that she is diplomatic, that she values justice and is not afraid to stand up for her values and for what is fair. Treating others in a similar way works well for her. Living a well-balanced life including financial stability is also something that she holds dear.

The additional area that required some coaching here was the strong desire for financial stability. Taking the role on offer, would inevitably stall her progress in the direction she wanted to go, but would provide immediate financial reward.  

We explored this further until she was comfortable with the idea of refusing to trade money for time. Instead she accepted that trusting in the process created space for the right things to emerge.

This woman was able to stand by her passion for enriching the community she operates in, and her commitment to bringing about improvements in the world around her. Big audacious goals, but by focusing and committing to the finer details of this scenario, she demonstrated integrity and the courage of her convictions.

As O. Henry (pen name of William Sydney Porter [1862-1910]) once said, “there is no well-defined boundary line between honesty and dishonesty. The frontiers of one blend with the outer limits of the other, and those who attempt to tread the dangerous ground may be sometimes in the one domain and sometimes in the other.”

Business is often about opportunity, presenting choices that test our integrity, our honesty – not only with others, but also with ourselves. Taking a pragmatic approach when presented with opportunities, we may find ourselves inadvertently manipulating the meaning of honesty to suit our situation. If we choose the idealist approach then, we must also look at how this fits with our values.

All important considerations, and a big part of what personal character is made of.

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