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Man in the mirror

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LM discusses the conflict between personal values and corporate values and the struggle to be true to one’s self in the corporate world and to hold on to one’s principles.


As the world paid tribute to Michael Jackson, it was a walk down memory lane and a time to reminisce for me personally.  When the song “Man in the Mirror” was released about 20 years ago, it not only took the world by storm, but it took me by storm personally.  “If you wanna make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and then make a change” – that has been a powerful mantra for me.

But 20 years ago, as a student, the lyrics of the song meant something different to me as compared to today.  I had lived in a relatively idealistic world as a student and “making a change” not only meant changing me but trying to change others as well. Today, with a more realistic world view after experiencing life in numerous countries as well as working with multinational companies for many years, the lyrics have a different meaning for me personally.  I realise that changing others is not something that can be done easily, and really, it is not something that I want to do.

The challenge often lies in personal values versus corporate values.  While most corporate values sound good and are openly plastered on every strategic wall in an organisation, whether these values are upheld and practised is really a bone of contention.  More often than not, the real corporate world and organisational culture is different from the facade.  What you see is not really what you get.  You may read about being fair and honest and acting with integrity on the walls of an organisation but it may not necessarily be practised. Under these circumstances, there can be a conflict in one’s personal value system versus the “real” corporate value system.

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It is ironic that one can take a good look at one’s self and make that change, but the question is whether that change compromises one’s personal values.  It is often the case that one has to conform and to compromise one’s value system at work.   

Striking the balance between personal and corporate values is a challenge.  Looking at yourself and making a change for the better does not necessarily mean you have to conform.  I believe it is about taking a firm stand, holding on to your values and principles and being prepared to justify your decisions and actions.

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