Credit: Colette, Raw Art Letterpress 2016
The sign in the bingo parlor reads, “You must be present to win.” The statement is a double entendre. It states one condition which makes a potential winner eligible to reap their bingo rewards. And it points to a condition in life that makes having a great life possible. Being present means being aware and mindful of the choices we can make. Choices shape the course of our life. They take us in the direction of our desired future. Choices matter.
Let’s distinguish choice from habit. Every choice opens the possibility of a different future opportunity, rather than ‘more of the same’. Consider choice as an act of personal leadership. On the other hand, when we navigate through life on ‘automatic’, we rely on our habits to guide us. The problem is that while habits are efficient, they sometimes are less effective. This is especially true when circumstances change and for interactions with people where context and nuance matter.
The process of making conscious choices can challenge or debunk the assumptions we usually make, providing relevant contextual features. In this way, we can operate within a larger field of vision rather than with many blind spots. From that perspective, our informed choices can set a direction consistent with our values and aspirations. We lead the way for ourselves.
When we declare our future, telling the story about what we are committed to, others may resonate with and commit to that future. At that point, our personal choice and leadership expand to include others. They choose to join us on our path towards our shared destination. This is what happens when employees resonate with the vision declared by their CEO. The vision expresses an aspiration and sets direction as well as rationale and priorities for all involved. Let me illustrate from my experience.
Every time a client decides what coaching areas we should focus on, they are making conscious choices about what matters most in the context of their life and work. For example, I have an executive client who wanted to focus primarily on delegating effectively and leading his virtual team to high levels of performance. Through our dialog he committed to take the actions necessary to learn what’s needed to behave differently, creating consistent impacts and producing desired results. These choices guided our conversations, his experiences and awareness. These affected the interpretations we explored, the new behaviors he experimented with, and the practices I recommended. Those choices of focus shape the context for and content of his interactions. They lead him towards his new, intended future.
Another executive coaching client identified improved communications as one of his development areas. Through our discussions, the vice president shifted his perspective about the importance of timely and effective communications. He saw the adverse impact that his delayed or missing communications had on others. He then decided to make different choices creating the time needed to communicate with team members, peers and the CEO. His updates to the CEO became timely and thoughtful, reflecting key issues and anticipating breakdowns.
In another strategic situation, he saw the need to collaborate with a colleague. By initiating the conversations and making new, collective choices, they were able to rectify a business shortfall by the end of the year. In a third instance, coaching enabled the client to rethink how to solve the problem of an unfilled key position. He made requests of two other managers. Between the three of them, they divided up the work in a way that even provided developmental opportunities for all of them. New awareness and interpretations, new choices and actions, different results and futures.
The power of choice for leaders can occur in other ways. Here are some examples:
Reframing an attitude or viewpoint towards a situation,
Interrupting the strong reaction to an event in order to create space for a more thoughtful response,
Soliciting others’ perspectives and consider them when making a decision,
Identifying self-limiting assumptions, letting them go to explore the problem or solution with fewer constraints,
Choosing learning as a lifelong journey.
Personal choice and leadership can facilitate acts of leadership in organizational settings. These take many forms, such as
Setting aspirational goals for a group,
Coaching others to accelerate development,
Providing perspective and interpretation that engages others to play at an elevated level,
Balancing constructive feedback with positive feedback to motivate performance,
Focusing as much on taking care of the people as on producing the results.
People can learn to become effective leaders. Invariably, there is a gap to close between ‘knowing about’ something and ‘knowing how’ to do something well. Improvement can be achieved quicker through practice with feedback. Personal choice begins by connecting what matters to you to the commitments and actions you’re ready, willing and able to take.
To quote Alvin Toffler, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Invest the time, effort and patience to elevate your best. What personal choices have informed your leadership effectiveness? What are you working on? Where can you choose to improve? We would love to have you share your experiences, ideas and thoughts about this blogpost.