Using Purpose and Values to Sustain Authentic Relationships at Work

There are a lot of theories out there on what leaders should or shouldn’t do when it comes to forming relationships with their team members.** There is:

  • always leave your personal life at the door
  • never interact socially with your team
  • maintain an unwavering facade of calm and control that draws a line between leader and led
  • screw all of the rules and party with whomever you want to, whenever you want to

Those are extremes of course, and there are plenty of leaders that know how to find a natural way to wear their “friend” and “boss” hats simultaneously or separately as necessary in a way that inspires fun, high functioning, and fairness. Our organization wants you to be yourself, wants you to connect in authentic ways with everyone you work with, and wants you to be an effective leader. If you’ve ever gotten lost in the gray area that that can create, the following article offers one way to navigate through it.

**This article addresses relationships that are considered appropriate in a professional workplace, please familiarize yourself with our policies on harassment, sexual harassment, and other interpersonal dynamics that would be considered inappropriate or cause for dismissal. If you can’t find those resources or have questions about them, please contact a member of your leadership team or Stephanie Bergholtz, Associate Director of People Services.  

Using Purpose and Values to Sustain Authentic Relationships at Work

by Becky Lemon, 1/30/19

When Ann and Conrad were dreaming about opening a pizza shop in Minneapolis, they shared a vision of a workplace that valued and supported well-being for everyone on the team. While the path to that vision continues to have varied and winding roads, it has never wavered from what’s at the heart of it all: care about the individuals on your team. Building authentic relationships with people where you both feel mutually respected, valued, and supported is essential to sustaining a safe and trusting environment, and it’s a cornerstone of great leadership. Maybe you’re already a natural at doing this. Maybe you need to develop strategies to connect more deeply with people. Either way, at some point as a leader, you’re going to bump up against the friendship boundary: how to form and sustain meaningful relationships at work, even friendships, without crossing lines that could jeopardize well-being for both of you and the team as a whole. Here’s the thing: there isn’t a grand rulebook to follow that will make navigating these relationships easy, effective, and satisfying. This is messy, interpersonal stuff. The good news is that you can write your own set of guidelines, within established expectations that protect individual’s safety from all forms of harassment and threat of violence, that will help you develop relationships on your team that lead to personal and professional well-being for all. It all starts with figuring out your purpose and values.

Step One: Determine a Purpose (“Why”)

You can have meaningful and/or fun connections to the people you work with and be intentional about how you’re working together to contribute to the success of the team. When you can articulate why it’s important to build authentic relationships at work, you’ll always have a purpose that anchors you and guides you on how to show up in them to keep a personal/professional balance that feels good and is effective. If you don’t already have a purpose for this, here is one way to help you determine what yours is:

Answer these questions about building authentic relationships with individuals on your team:

  • What are the benefits to you and them (as co-workers and as human beings)?
  • What are the benefits for the team as a whole?
  • Why is it worth the time and energy to do this?
  • What are the desired end results of doing this?

If you’re having a hard time answering those, think through the opposite route first: what happens to you, them, and the team when you don’t build authentic relationships or show that you care about your team?

Once you’ve got your answers, think about the expectations of your role.

  • What are you trying to accomplish in your restaurant or department?
  • What policies are in place about team dynamics and conduct that you are responsible for upholding?
  • What are expectations of Vestalia regarding team environment?

This will inform your purpose for building and sustaining these relationships. Find someone that can help you work all of this into a statement, something that rings true to you and that you’ll have an easy time remembering. It should outline why you’re doing this, and what doing it will achieve. Need an example? Here you go:

(The purpose of building authentic relationships is) To build trust between us that increases our ability to meaningfully support one another’s development and well-being.  

Once you have your statement, keep it top of mind until it really sinks in and becomes part of what you do day to day.

Feeling good about your purpose? Time for step two!


Step Two: Determine Values (“How”)

If the purpose answers why you’re going to build authentic relationships, then the values you prioritize answers what you’ll need to feel good about them and how they’ll feel authentic to you. So, what’s important to you in a relationship? Maybe it’s honesty, belonging, and generosity. Maybe you need understanding, kindness, and accountability. There are over a million possibilities, find the combination that will help you feel grounded and able to carry out your purpose with everyone on your team, regardless of your natural connection.

How many values you want to identify is up to you, usually it’s anywhere from two to five. Any less means your scope may be too narrow, any more may be too complicated and you risk getting overwhelmed and giving up on all of this as a tool. Aim for fundamentals and keep things simple and balanced.

Got your values? Time to put all of this into practice!


Be, Assess, and Adjust Accordingly

You’re already in some sort of relationship with everyone on your team. Take some time to reflect on what each one looks like through the lens of your purpose and values.

If your purpose includes showing that you care about people as individuals, and one of your values is belonging, figure out with whom on your team that is strong and weak. Think about what those ends of the spectrum looks and feels like for you, and pay attention to what might be going on in the gap.

If you’re consistently bonding with someone naturally over a shared interest but only give a cursory hello to someone you may care about but don’t have that organic ease with, you may be sending mixed messages to them. Use your purpose and values to keep that first relationship going in the right direction and take the necessary steps to get the second relationship on track.

When you’re able to identify which relationships feel authentic to you and which ones don’t, get curious about the behaviors you exhibit in each.  Discern the actions that are not serving you and grow your awareness of when you’re practicing them so you can start making different choices in those relationships.   Notice what you’re actually doing and saying when you’re in a relationships that align with your purpose and values.   Incorporate more of that behavior in all of your interactions.


Use Your Purpose and Values to Create Compassionate Boundaries

When there are clear guidelines or policies in place about how to act or hold someone accountable to their actions or behaviors, follow them (e.g., shift drink policy, safety procedures, etc). Seek the best way to show up and communicate within that policy. If you’re in murky or uncharted territory, use your purpose and values as a guide to make decisions or create clear boundaries that take into consideration the specific conditions of the situation and the people in them. A decision you make today in one circumstance may not be the right decision for the same circumstance with different factors at play tomorrow. Staying rooted in your purpose and values helps you to respond with integrity amidst the fluctuating variables of any situation. It steers you away from being swayed by the nature of the relationships you have with the people involved and toward solid standards that can be applied to everyone. It also demonstrates to your team how they can expect you to respond when there are no clear, indisputable rules to follow.

Imagine how paying attention to your purpose and values can help you draw fluid yet clear boundaries for your actions and behaviors in these situations:

Your team wants you to join them after work for a drink at the bar.

A team member has recently lost a loved one and as a result is consistently late, calling in minutes before a shift, or having a hard time doing their job

General conversation amongst your team takes a natural turn and people are sharing things that start to feel not inappropriate but too personal (for yourself or you sense it’s become so for someone in it or within earshot)

It feels like a team member has begun to rely on you or the teams’ time and support in an increased or exaggerated way that could possibly cause conflict


Go Out and Get Feedback

Sometimes, using your purpose and values as a guide isn’t enough to feel confident about how to show up or make a decision. You may also, with the best intentions, interpret and use them in a way that leads you down an unsuccessful path. It is essential to enlist others as support as you learn and grow with this tool. Get their feedback and consider it when you are uncertain on how to move forward, and circle back constantly to ask people to tell you how your decisions and behavior has felt for them in these situations. With each interaction you’ll get closer to knowing how you can authentically be yourself and be your role in satisfying and effective relationships with every member of your team.

You will most likely spend more time with the people you work with than you will with your family and non-work friends. With that much proximity and a shared interest in our industry, it is natural to develop connections and think of your team as your family or tribe. Embrace the fun and friendship that brings, appreciate the meaningful support it can offer, and explore how you personally can get the most out of these relationships while maintaining a professional balance and well-being for all.

Side Dish

Sometimes the main course just isn’t enough – find links here to content that rounds out the themes explored in this week’s article.

Exercise: Brené Brown’s “Living Into Our Values”

As much as we’d like one, there isn’t a handbook out there that can tell us exactly how to live our lives well or achieve success. The blueprint for how to live a meaningful life exists in each of us; it takes some work to figure out the unique guidelines that we can follow to generate our own joy and well-being while mitigating fear and suffering.

If you started writing your own personal handbook, there would definitely be a chapter on your values. Identifying a set of core values that capture what you believe in creates an anchor for your character on any journey you choose to go on (so you don’t lose yourself) and a compass that will lead you in the right direction when you’re in uncertain or stormy situations (so you don’t stay lost).

Need to identify, update, or recommit to your core values? Brené Brown has created a simple yet comprehensive exercise that helps you surface the values you want to define your life with, and tie them to behaviors that make them come alive. Head over to her website to download the exercise – it’s intuitive enough to do cold, you can also learn more about it by listening to the podcast linked on her website or by checking out her book Dare to Lead.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s