Empowering Leaders Using the Hierarchy of Value 

Have you ever found yourself yearning for a roadmap to navigate life’s intricate web of decisions? Those moments when you question whether you’ve weighed all the variables, wondering which path to take, both in personal and professional situations. We all share in this universal challenge. Today, we’ll dig further into a guiding principle that can illuminate your way through this intricate maze. It’s known as the Hierarchy of Value, and it holds the key to transforming your decision-making, reshaping your relationships, and propelling your business and culture to new heights.

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Dr. Robert S. Hartman: The Man Behind the Theory

But before we dive in, let’s take a moment to appreciate the man behind it all – Dr. Robert S. Hartman. 

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Born in Germany in 1910, Dr. Hartman witnessed the rise of Hitler and what he calls the “organization of evil.” From an early age, Hartman was driven to define “goodness,” how to measure “goodness” and the relative value of people and things, and if possible, how to “organize good.” His life mission was to help people and governments make better decisions based on his findings, and ultimately prevent war in the future. 

Dr. Hartman (1910-1973) was a philosopher, mathematician, and psychologist, with doctorate-level degrees in all three areas. He is considered the father of modern axiology, or the science of “how we value.  He is known for developing the “Hierarchy of Value,” also known as “Value Theory.” The Hierarchy of Value is a framework that provides a mathematical and scientific system to objectively measure the relative value of people and things, based on their measurable “goodness.”

People first, productivity second, and policy third. 

His groundbreaking work in axiology, the science of value, earned him a Nobel Prize nomination. So, with an understanding of Dr. Hartman’s educational journey, let’s continue our exploration of the Hierarchy of Value and how it can be applied practically in your relationships, work, and life!

Values vs. “How” We Value

To grasp the essence of the Hierarchy of Value, we must distinguish the concept of “values” versus “how we value.” Values are merely our abstract beliefs about what is important, desirable, and meaningful. Our values are often deeply rooted in our upbringing, culture, and experiences. For example, honesty, integrity, compassion, and fairness are common values. Often, our values guide our actions and decisions, but not always.

The challenge arises when our actions don’t align with our professed values. We may say we value family, but work long hours, or believe we must choose work over family, contradicting our “family” values. This dissonance is common, highlighting the complexity of our value systems.

How We Value

“How we value” is demonstrated by the decisions we make about “what” we value. It’s the subjective process of assigning worth, or importance to something or someone. It involves our subjective evaluation based on our individual perspectives, preferences, and judgments. “How We Value” is influenced by the same factors that shape our values, as well as our emotions, societal norms, cultural beliefs, and personal biases. 

Hartman believed that understanding the process of “how we value”, is more valuable than talking about our ideas about “what” we value. Understanding “how we value” and make value judgments and decisions can help us align our actions and behaviors with our core beliefs, which can lead to a more fulfilling and authentic life.

The Hierarchy of Value: Three Dimensions

The guiding principle that can illuminate your way through this intricate maze is known as the Hierarchy of Value.  The Hierarchy of Value introduces three dimensions of value that can profoundly influence our lives: systemic, extrinsic, and intrinsic. All three levels are important when we understand and apply them appropriately. 

Systemic Value

Systemic value revolves around dualistic thinking, with only two options. It categorizes things as either right or wrong, agree or disagree. Systemic value can simplify decision-making but often overlooks the nuances of complex situations. For instance, consider a car’s systemic value. “Does it run?” If yes, it has value; if not, it doesn’t. You probably wouldn’t make a decision to purchase a car based purely on this one level of thinking.”It runs, so I will buy it.” Yet, sometimes, important decisions are based purely on systemic thinking without considering all of the factors. This type of thinking can be valuable, but it can also limit our understanding of people and the world.

Extrinsic Value

Moving up the hierarchy, extrinsic value deals with tangible and measurable attributes. It considers factors like cost, performance, achievement, and usefulness. If we can count the “properties” or “attributes” of a person or thing, relative to other things, we are measuring something extrinsically. Let’s revisit the car example. Comparing a basic Ford Focus to a luxurious Rolls Royce, the differences are measurable, from price to features. Extrinsic value allows us to make objective comparisons.

Intrinsic Value

At the pinnacle of the hierarchy lies intrinsic value. It transcends measurement and comparison. Intrinsic things are unique, irreplaceable, and beyond measure. Human life is the ultimate example of intrinsic value. Every individual is priceless, beyond comparison to any object or idea. Intrinsic value celebrates the profound worth of each person, regardless of “measurable attributes”.

Applying the Hierarchy of Value in Life and Relationships

Now, let’s explore how this understanding of value can transform our lives and businesses. How does our understanding of the Hierarchy of Value relate to building relationships with others? To foster teamwork and a sense of belonging? To improve our own productivity, performance, and engagement, and that of our team?

Recognizing the Hierarchy of Value in our personal lives allows us to make better decisions and deepen our relationships. When we prioritize intrinsic value over systemic or extrinsic factors, we honor the uniqueness of individuals. Intrinsically supporting someone fosters understanding, empathy, and authentic connections.

However, not only can you build a bond with a person by valuing them intrinsically, but you can also deepen your bond when you understand and appreciate the things they value. Imagine that your partner intrinsically values a sentimental object (an “old” car or piece of furniture) more than its extrinsic worth (it doesn’t look very nice, or it’s taking up space in your garage), causing tension. It may not even work (systemic). Understanding the intrinsic value can help you navigate such scenarios, emphasizing the irreplaceable significance of sentimental items.

For another practical example of how you can use the Hierarchy of Value in choosing your next home.

🎬 Watch the short YouTube Video on The Hierarchy of Value Made Easy.

Embracing The Hierarchy of Value in Business

Understanding the significance of the three dimensions of value and their influence on decision-making holds immense value in the corporate world. When leaders start to recognize and appreciate the intrinsic value of their colleagues, the highest level of this hierarchy, it becomes a catalyst for cultivating an inclusive and supportive environment. Embracing the Hierarchy of Value has the potential to not only reshape but also revolutionize your company culture.

A client shared a story with me about an interaction with her employer. My client was upset about a family issue and had to speak to her boss. Immediately, my client began to cry, and without hesitation, the boss leaned forward and grasped my client’s hands, reassuring my client that whatever it was, it would be okay. A person never forgets an interaction like this. 

But what happens when a boss errs in the opposite direction? A manager revealed to me their snap systemic reaction to an employee’s inability to work the required schedule. In the manager’s mind, this employee was no longer considered promotable or management “material.” We discussed how the manager devalued the employee’s worth, based on temporary circumstances beyond their control. Fortunately, the manager recognized their error in judgment regarding an otherwise valuable employee. Imagine the implications had the executive not had a chance to rethink their reaction before taking action?     

Intrinsic value goes beyond attributes or external measures. Seeking out the unique perspectives of each person, or providing opportunities based on their strengths helps employees feel valued beyond their roles and measurable productivity or contributions. Fostering the intrinsic worth of individuals in the workplace increases engagement and motivation, leading to further organizational success.

Creating More “Goodness”

Hartman’s theory emphasizes the importance of recognizing and prioritizing intrinsic value over extrinsic and systemic value so we can achieve personal and societal well-being.

Learning to use these principles in our daily lives can make a difference. The simple example of an “old” car in the eyes of one partner, but having sentimental and irreplaceable value to another – could be the source of arguments between partners. Understanding “how we value” can help us make better decisions, by viewing things from multiple perspectives. Learning to use the Hierarchy of Value can help us relate better and connect with our partners and children, our co-workers, our boss, and maybe even our governments (OK, maybe that’s a stretch).

Not only can the Hierarchy of Value help us in our personal and professional relationships, but we can also learn to make better, more comprehensive decisions that consider factors from a variety of perspectives. And if this isn’t reason enough, research demonstrates that prioritizing intrinsic value over extrinsic is associated with greater well-being, life satisfaction, and psychological health (Kasser, 2018). In contrast, excessive focus on extrinsic values can lead to stress, anxiety, and a sense of emptiness or dissatisfaction (Deci & Ryan, 2000). 

How Do You Value?

Most likely, your systemic thinking patterns are getting in your way more than you suspect. In fact, our research indicates that 85% of clients suffer from out-of-balance systemic thinking patterns. This kind of thinking causes self-judgment and self-doubt. Worrying about what others think, or feeling frustration that others don’t think like you do. Systemic thinking can steal the enjoyment from your life. 

Reflect on your own thinking patterns. Do you lean towards systemic dualistic thinking? Or do you consider the many nuanced attributes of things and situations? And most importantly, how often are you recognizing the intrinsic value in yourself, your family, customers, and your co-workers?

Here’s a practical exercise to try. Pay attention to your decision-making. Pause and examine your thought process. If you are thinking or hearing words like “should or shouldn’t,” or “is or isn’t”, you are stuck in a systemic thinking pattern. Are you valuing objects, time, production, or performance over your people, their families, and lives?  Before you choose, or act, look for the good. Prioritize and honor the unique intrinsic and irreplaceable value of every person.

Better Self-Leadership 

In summary, the Hierarchy of Value, developed by Dr. Robert S. Hartman, provides a valuable perspective on how we make decisions. It encourages us to go beyond simple thinking and consider both the measurable and immeasurable value of people and things.

As you work on becoming a better self-leader (of yourself or others), take a moment to think about how you tend to make decisions. Do you make quick, snap judgments, or do you take the time to understand the complexities of a situation?

As you take the next steps on your self-leadership journey, try to become more aware of yourself and others, and appreciate the unique qualities and endless potential within everyone. Embracing the intrinsic value will transform your life into something even more beautiful.

If you’d like to learn how you can use the Hierarchy of Value to improve your decision-making or want to explore self-leadership coaching to enhance your leadership skills and develop your employees’ potential, please schedule a personal introduction with me. Your journey is just beginning, and I’ll be here to support you every step of the way.

Kristin Clark is a certified Axiogenics Coach and co-author of Living a Richer Life; It’s All in Your Head. She has coached hundreds of people from a range of backgrounds and beliefs, industries, and professions. Kristin trains and coaches executives, leaders, and individuals in Valuegenic Self-Leadership. This powerful development program will help you tame your limiting thoughts to master your mindset for more confidence, clarity, impact, and meaning, so you can start Living a Richer Life.

Photo by Chris Linnett on Unsplash

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