What value am I creating for someone else?

By Dave Ulrich.


Value is defined by the receiver more than the giver. This simple principle affects professional and personal relationships and impact.

In professional settings, we often judge ourselves by our intent, but others judge us by our behavior. We intend to be provocative, but we come across as snarky. We intend to challenge, but we come across as contrarian. We intend to be playful or funny, but we may come across as cynical or cryptic. We need to have our “head on a swivel” and think about how our actions and behaviors will create value for someone else. It is like being on a balcony watching our life’s performance.

When we focus on value we create for others, traditional management maxims change. Building on our strengths is not complete unless we build on our strengths that will strengthen others. Leadership authenticity (a highly desired leadership trait) is merely narcissism unless our authenticity helps someone else meet their goals. Some leaders brag about how wealthy they are, but real leaders create wealth for others. When the inevitable crisis occurs, value-based, other-centered leaders start with the impact of the crisis on others and how their response will benefit others; self-oriented leaders start by thinking about themselves and what they can and should do. Leaders with a value focus reflect on whom they serve each day and how their work will make others’ work better.

The sample principle applies in many settings. Good teaching is not what I know, but how what I know helps students better accomplish their goals. Professional training and development is more effective when we focus on learning solutions by helping those who attend better solve their problems rather than giving a stirring lecture or presenting an insightful case. Often training faculty are exceptional performers who present the same material as a lecture or case study over and over again. When focused on value creating, training starts with the challenges participants may have, then seeks solutions to those challenges. When I coach leaders, I teach them that listening is not that they understand, but that the other person feels understood. When I work to upgrade a company’s HR practices, we start with the value these practices will have to company success. HR analytics starts with the business and shows how HR work will show up on the business scorecard, not an HR scorecard. When we work on culture change, we start by defining culture through the eyes of the customer (or other key external stakeholder) and define the value of the values. When I write, I often think about the reader and how the ideas might provide insights with impact to them.

In personal relationships, when I start by thinking about what someone else values, I better relate to and serve them. When I start with what is meaningful to my wife, my gifts add more value to her. When I listen to my friends and children, I show that I care for them and their well being more than for my actions. When I celebrate others’ accomplishments, my success is magnified. Good parenting is not about what parents know and do, but about how parents help children discover their strengths and purposes. When someone might do something that frustrates me, I can pause and see how their behaviors may make sense from their point of view. This “seek first to understand” mantra helps build enduring relationship built on mutual respect.