I was once told a story about a teacher covering a lesson in a high school class about witch trials throughout history. As part of the lesson, the teacher said that the class was going to play a game.

The teacher said “I’m going to come around and whisper to each of you whether or not you are a witch. Your goal is to build the largest group possible that does NOT have a witch in it. In the end, any group found to include a witch loses the game.”

The teens dove into grilling each other. One fairly large group formed, but most of the students broke into small, exclusive groups, turning away anyone they thought gave off even a hint of guilt.

“Okay,” the teacher said. “You’ve got your groups. Time to find out which ones fail. All witches, please raise your hands.”

No one raised a hand.

The kids were confused and told him he’d messed up the game.

“Did I? Or did everyone just believe what they’d been told?”

And that is how you show how easy it is to divide a group, a community or an organisation through perceived values.

I tell this story because it is a powerful example of the power of words in shaping culture, shaping an environment within an organisation. Values to champion and nurture must be those that embody diversity, difference and heterogeneity. They need to be welcoming, embracing and inclusive. Shunning, scapegoating and dividing destroy far more than they protect. We’re all in this together.

So what about values like:

  • Safety
  • Communication
  • Excellence

Are these real cultural values or are they what you want to promote as an organisation? Real company values should be those behaviours and skills that we particularly value in fellow employees. For example, ‘safety’ is not a value. Safety is a goal or a result that comes about through great values.

You and your organisation are the only ones who can determine what those values should be to form your value proposition and that of your company. It might sound time-worn and overdone but your values must be what your entire organisation values. Not just what the C-Suite or management says they should be. Telling an organisation or an individual what their values should be will never result in the whole or vast majority endorsing those values. Simon Sinek defines it as your ‘Why. The purpose, cause or belief that drives every one of us towards finding clarity, meaning, and fulfilment.’

What about values like:

  • Judgement
  • Impact
  • Curiosity
  • Courage
  • Passion
  • Selflessness

We want to work with people who embody ‘X’ values. How different are these values when compared to Safety, Communication or Excellence.

Antoine De Saint‐Exupéry, author of The Little Prince once said, ‘If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the people to gather wood, divide the work, and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.’

Values determine the environment. If you get the environment right every single one of us has the capacity to do great things. So what’s the environment? The best environment is where leaders will never sacrifice other people to protect the organisation. Great leaders would never sacrifice the people. They count hearts, not heads. Even leaders who have no authority in the organisation but they nurture an environment that looks after the person to the left of them and the person to the right of them, where the leader eats last. This is the right environment. These people go in first, they take responsibility for everybody else. They will choose to sacrifice so that their people may be safe and protected. They also know that when they do this, their people will give their blood and sweat and tears to see the vision come to life. And you know you have the right environment when you ask them, why would you do that, why would you give your Blood Sweat and Tears, and they reply ‘because they would’ve done it for me.  

That is the time when you know you have made it.

Shane Mallory

Shane is a performer, emcee, host, communicator, creative, mentor and innovative theatre director. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland with his wife Natalie, who are almost 'empty nesters' providing a home for their two daughters' dog and two cats.


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