What Are “Sustainable Values”?

In my last post, I wrote about “sustainable values,” i.e. the beliefs and behaviors that produce an inspiring identity, human value and knowledge flow in groups that help people thrive individually and collectively. In other words, when a group embraces and behaves in ways that are consistent with sustainable values, it leads to sustainable superior performance.

In our work, we recommend that leaders of organizations promote the universal character values celebrated by religious thinkers and moral philosophers throughout history. Cultures that have these values exhibit superior strategic alignment, employee engagement, productivity, innovation and overall performance.  Researchers that are part of the American Psychological Association’s positive psychology research effort identified these values as helping people flourish and a body of large body research is developing in support of that view. Here’s a list of the values and their definitions:

From Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification

By Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman

  1. Wisdom and knowledge – cognitive strengths that entail the acquisition and use of knowledge

Creativity (originality, ingenuity): thinking of novel and productive ways to conceptualize and do things; includes artistic achievement but is not limited to it

Curiosity (interest, novelty-seeking, openness to experience): taking an interest in ongoing experience for its own sake; finding subjects and topics fascinating; exploring and discovering

Open-mindedness (judgment, critical thinking): thinking things through and examining them from all sides; not jumping to conclusions; being able to change one’s mind in light of evidence; weighing all evidence fairly

Love of learning: mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge, whether on one’s own or formally; obviously related to the strength of curiosity but goes beyond it to describe the tendency to add systematically to what one knows

Perspective (wisdom): being able to provide wise counsel to others; having ways of looking at the world that make sense to oneself and to other people

  1. Courage – emotional strengths that involve the exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal

Bravery (valor): not shrinking from threat, challenge, difficulty, or pain; speaking up for what is right even if there is opposition; acting on convictions even if unpopular; includes physical bravery but is not limited to it

Persistence (perseverance, industriousness): finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles; “getting it out the door”; taking pleasure in completing tasks

Integrity (authenticity, honesty): speaking the truth but more broadly presenting oneself in a genuine way and acting in a sincere way; being without pretense; taking responsibility for one’s feelings and actions

Vitality (zest, enthusiasm, vigor, energy): approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things halfway or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated

3.  Humanity – interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others

Love: valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people

Kindness (generosity, nurturance, care, compassion, altruistic love, “niceness”): doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them

Social intelligence (emotional intelligence, personal intelligence): being aware of the motives and feelings of other people and oneself; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick

4.  Justice – civic strengths that underlie healthy community life

Citizenship (social responsibility, loyalty, teamwork): working well as a member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share

Fairness: treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance

Leadership: encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen

5.  Temperance – strengths that protect against excess

Forgiveness and mercy: forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful

Humility/Modesty: letting one’s own accomplishments speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlight; not regarding oneself as more special than one is

Prudence: being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted

Self-regulation (self-control): regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions

  1. Transcendence – strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning

Appreciation of beauty and excellence (awe, wonder, elevation): noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in various domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience

Gratitude: being aware of and thankful for the good things that happen; taking time to express thanks

Hope (optimism, future-mindedness, future orientation): expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about

Humor (playfulness): liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people; seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes

Spirituality (religiousness, faith, purpose): having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of the universe; knowing where own fits within the larger scheme; having beliefs about the meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort

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