The Anatomy of a Choice

Photo by the Author

Stephen Covey once said there were three constants in life: Change, Principles, and Choice. The underlying idea of his works was to help others match the right kinds of choices, to their personal vision, mission or governing value network. In doing that we could derive effectiveness in the variety of roles in our lives.

Yet for most of us, choice is the hardest variable. In today’s highly information driven society with its infinite number of personal choices we could make, choices are hard. Even if we have carefully crafted our personal mission, values and roles in our lives, choices are hard, especially when there are competing ones. Beyond this, is how there are so many issues that act on us. Even important roles can collide, and choices can be difficult.

Beyond these challenges is the fact that we can make a choice, but to follow through and see the choice through takes fortitude. The hardest part of a choice may not be the competing nature of paths we can take, but the bridge that needs crossed to implement the choice.

How many people have you met that make good intentional commitments or indicate verbally their intentions toward a choice, but fall short doing the choice? Probably everyone, including ourselves. It is very popular to make the choice, and it feels good because of the perceived accomplishment. The accomplishment of a choice is however the most important and critical step in any choice. Everyone can have good intentions when it is needed (see my article on “Organizational Codependency” elsewhere on this site). Making the choice stick is completely a different animal.

The Anatomy of a Choice

    When you’re planning to make a choice, consider the following elements:

    1. How realistically can I implement the choice?
    2. How many new steps will my choice make for me?
    3. The choice feels good, but doing the choice is like moving against a strong wind.
    4. How much work is involved in this choice?
    5. Who can help me get there, once I have made the choice.

    Of course the above sounds a lot like goals. A preferred definition of choice might be: What behaviors do I need to do? Choice are thoughts, but the behavior portion transitions the choice into action. Using the word goals is about as vague as choice. Without the operationalized behavioral steps and actions, movement will not occur. The anatomy of a choice is often a road to travel itself. It is also a lifelong pursuit of becoming and direction finding in your life.

The Power of A Question

Photo by the Author

When teams function best is when individual team members dare to ask questions of their leaders. To challenge indicates a commitment toward engagement, and a willingness to connect to the organization’s vision.

Questions suggest team engagement because:

1. It means the individual team member cares enough about their individual contribution.

2. Questions indicate that a team contributor is interested in doing rather than complaining.

3. New ideas might be imbedded in the question.

4. Through a question, the process of learning is occurring.

A leader should be very concerned with their team when people stop asking questions. It means that a member’s commitment is waning, a team member is not engaged with the vision, or the leader’s direction lacks clarity.

The worse case scenario when questioning is abandoned – is a sort of complacency where mediocrity is accepted and the program becomes a drifting entity.

Managers and leaders ought to encourage and welcome thoughtful questions by their teams. It’s the most reliable indicator regarding the health of an organization or program, including the teams that compose those areas.

How Much Control is Appropriate in Management? An Idea Revisited.

The command and control age of management is (or should be) over. The authoritative nature of interaction, and micro-management paradigm where those that have the authority – should know best – is something that has become out of mode, at least in management theory. The current thinking is that employee engagement and releasing others to develop and implement ideas is more desirable.

In a recent conversation with a colleague, the whole idea of “controlling” functions in the organization, and controlling how things get done was revisited. Being trained in both authoritarian and release/engagement management structures, I found the idea brought up again, fascinating.

The idea from my colleague – Doug Butchy ( who is a music educator went like this (paraphrase in italics):

I find myself needing to control all aspects of the organization (this being a music performance organization) because I want to make sure everything gets done – to my specifications. I now have a better understanding why others (he was referring to another colleague) always wanted to be in control of all aspects of the details. I find myself doing the same thing, to make sure things are right.

The idea was referring to the details of running a music performance group, but nonetheless an organization that is made up of rules, practices, a culture, and a “way” of doing something. My colleague’s view was that control worked for him in this type of organization. In other organizations however, having a “release” approach – where you engage others to take charge of more of the details, or delegate plans – might seem appropriate – especially where the organization’s competitive advantage is based on unleashing individual creativity in the organization. This definition may seem a bit broad because there are obviously other components that go into managing an organization. For this discussion however, it seems appropriate.

Over the ensuing several days, I have reflected on the idea why having a more control oriented management structure would work in some ways better than a more “stewardship” – servant leadership style would work. Here’s what I have arrived at:

More Control in Management is helpful when:
1. The organization – community or otherwise has a fluid workforce or membership (much like the organization that was being referred to above.

2. Staff, students, members in the organization need substantially more guidance to be successful with the task. In other words there is a learning curve in the organization.

3. The organizational task is more rigid in nature and parameters for the task are clearly understood. This would suit an educational organization, or some community organizations.

Less Control in Management is helpful when:
1. The organization’s task is more flexible, requires individual creativity, is product oriented, and employs professionals to implement their craft.

2. Where exerting more management control will only disrupt the individual capacity of the workers.

3. Where customers are involved – directly in the provision of developing products, and providing services.

Not to confuse Quality Control with “less control”, the idea for less control, does not mean there is less emphasis on adhering to quality standards, policy, procedures and the like. It also doesn’t negate the reporting relationship. Less control means that individuals in the organization are developed in such a way that they learn to manage themselves within established parameters.

The idea of using more control – often gets perceived as being a micro manager, or authoritarian – neither of which is the right definition for using more control with an organizational task. The idea here is that those that use more control are doing so, based on the unique elements and task of the organization they are managing. It has less to do with squelching employee engagement or initiative, or less to do with actually “controlling people”.

Leading Change Through the Barrier of Doubt

Proposing a change almost always leads to some measure of doubt. Be prepared with your “thick skin”, because where there is something new, there is likely someone out there to doubt your vision.

Envisioning the future is not a comfortable endeavor for some, for the following reasons:
1. It requires others on your team to see what you see.

2. Seeing something new, means that some discomfort might need to be tolerated.

3. Sometimes a vision requires working through ambiguity.

4. Someone doesn’t share the same values. They don’t see what you see.

5. The need for control is high between individual team members. Collaboration is low.

Matter of fact, doubt is the opposite of possibility. Often the doubt is a way of adding a “rational reason” to why something won’t work, when there is likely little evidence that it wouldn’t work.

Photo by: Brian E. Dick

Working through your vision to its conclusion requires the tenacity to take risks in the face of doubt. Knowing that doubt is a cousin to “fear of change”,and that ambiguity is the foundation to creating success, sticking with your plans and principles is the way to work through external doubt.

Ways to work though doubts:

1. Build a team that shares the same value for the change

2. Base your vision on clear principles

3. Accept your detractors – there will always be detractors…

4. Accept the ambiguity between the vision and the planned outcome.

Each step toward the planned outcome of your vision should actually strengthen your resolve to change and over time lessen the doubt that comes from external sources.

Take Charge of Yourself

A problem for the busy professional is the ability to work through the “noise” of everything demanding your time.  No matter how much you plan, work on productivity or “work smarter”, not harder, the surf keeps pounding, and you’re wondering whether what you do counts.

The Problem

The problem is not that people are (not) good at what they do. It is that they don’t feel they own enough of themselves to make things happen that they believe are important.  The outside forces work on them, demand them, and ask of them for many things.  The more capable, and better result driven person you are, the more likely that others will come to see you as someone they need assistance from.  

The Reversal

It’s good that your good at something, and that people believe in you.  If you’re a leader, it makes it even more critical that the subtle forces of everything else don’t drown out the following things:

  • Your ability to think about what you are doing.
  • Your ability to institute changes and developments that prove helpful to yourself and others.  
  • The ability to tap into your desire to be effective, and do what is needed.

The Solution

The solution is not a cookbook.  It is about having the resolve to realign what you already know is important, in a more centered way of your life.  Remember, you are the solution, but looking at external resources may be important to address the demands, and ensure you are able to institute what you need to maintain good balance.

  • Say no to certain things.
  • Stay connected with what gets shoved underneath the rug.
  • Decide the importance of things.
  • Change the impact of certain demands, reassign others, schedule the important.
  • Get to the key root causes of the problem.  Look for ways you have addressed these issues in the past.

Only you can change you.  A lot of fine things and people can push how and what you do. It’s never too late to re-evaluate and make course corrections.  Chances are, you may need to do this on a regular basis, to ensure you are staying true to your mission.

Knowing-Saying-Doing – Follow Through

Knowing you need to do something, does not necessarily mean it will happen…Saying it needs done, does not mean it will happen. The space between knowing and saying can be expansive, without a clear path to “the doing.”

Faulty Assumptions:
Follow through is the the Gold Standard for progress. Being a “do-er” requires a special subset to one’s personality. Often making the transition from the plan to the result requires a set of actions to actually perform the doing. Why is it so hard to follow through?

1. The belief that “it’s someone else’s responsibility.”

2. We don’t know how. It’s going to require too much effort.

3. A clear path to the finish line is not well defined.

4. There is too much confusion about what it is to do.

Photo: Brian Dick

Somewhere there needs to be a path between knowing something needs to be done, and the actual doing. Becoming a problem solver and a “do-er” means that you’re willing to risk the effort, and time to get closure. The difference being do-ers and non-do-ers can include the following:

1. Do-ers can see opportunities and ways to follow through – “path clarity”

2. Non-do-ers are dependent on others and the outside world.

3. Do-ers practice ways and institute problem solving – they enjoy accomplishment.

4. Non-do-ers are happy with others showing the way.

In Summary:
Doing = Activity and Engagement

To obtain Follow Through means that there has to be a desire.

Doing = Activity + Engagement + Desire

What are you not accomplishing? What component is holding you back?

Healthy Discomfort and Change

Change is a constant, but I’m sure that comfort with change will never change…it will continue to be uncomfortable.

Much has been written on a daily basis about change, making changes, personal growth, and adapting to change. It is popular fodder for discussion, but in real life making changes – if done well, is down right uncomfortable for some. It’s easy to discuss and think making change. If change is real, it can be uncomfortable.

A View to Consider:
“Making improvements and change should be uncomfortable in a healthy way. If we’re not comfortable with it, then it may just be window dressing. Real changes require us to be uncomforble (at least cognitively and behaviorally) in order for them to stick.”

The concept:
Cognitive Dissonance: The idea that what we think-feel-behave, is at some kind of mismatch with other known circumstances. Just because we know what needs to be done, doesn’t always lead to the change. Instead, the gap is closed by denial, procrastination, and self-defeating behaviors.

The reasons why some people don’t change:
1. Change requires choice and follow though. Some people don’t possess either.
2. Discomfort means we have to confront our beliefs about the world, and our shortcomings.
3. People like to hold on to old ways. The problem is not immediate or urgent.
4. Weaknesses are not a popular topic.

If a change is needed, there has to be a clear payoff. No payoff, then there is little desire to institute a change. For some, delaying what we think we need to do, will eventually ACT on us, and something will need to be done.

Change is both Uncomfortable and Process:
If you’re not uncomfortable making a change, then what you’re doing is not change. If you think change is a matter of a task list, you’re into self-deception. Change is also not about someone doing something to you. It is about doing something different yourself.

The Change Process:
1. Knowing you have to make a change.
2. Identifying the personal sacrifices that have to be made.
3. Making and keeping promises….repeatedly. And, then again.
4. The payoff – Why are you doing this?

What is keeping you from real change?


What is Your Leadership Footprint?

Before we start – please take a moment to consider this exercise. Visualize yourself for a moment many years ahead of your present status as a leader:

Imagine that you are attending your retirement gathering. The people assembled are there to celebrate your retirement from the organization. After many accumulated years, your leadership within the organization will be passed to your successor. You have had many individuals under your guidance over the years. You have affected many lives. The room where the celebration is taking place is filled with significant respect, but also a sadness that a transition is about to happen now that you are retiring. Your reach is vast. You have at least two generations of individuals you have influenced, that came far and wide to celebrate your milestone.

Photo by Brian E. Dick. “Is your leadership building a bridge for future leaders?”

The Footprint You Hope to Make
If you took a moment and envisioned your retirement, hopefully you envisioned the kind of impact you would liked to have made by that time. The opportunity you take now to evaluate the kind of impact you are making now, could lead you to consider the kind of action, or change that needs to be made now. Was the visualization a comfortable, or unnerving experience?

Some Questions to Ask Yourself
What type of impact do you want to make in your organization?
Even if you don’t have a formal title, how still have you been a leader?
Is your leadership style about building a sense of meaning, or about just having the prestige?
What weaknesses do you possess that could be addressed in the future?

Generativity vs. Isolation
The human development theorist Erik Erikson is widely known for the concept of lifespan stages of development, and their component tasks at each stage of the lifespan. One of the last stages that Erikson proposed was Generativity vs. Isolation. In other words, do we look back/and/forward with richness, appreciation, continued contribution? Or, do we reach a point in our future, where the footprints we make in our leadership journey suggest hollow, and unfulfilled dreams, missed opportunity, and isolation? Did you focus on the wrong things too long. Struggled too long without tangible results? Finally, did we enrich others, mentor them, make good leaders?

The Impact We Make
We may not realize it, but in the course of our career, we have thousands of opportunities to influence and leave significant contributions in the course of our interactions. If we have left a good footprint, others that have been influenced will carry our presence forward into the future. You may not realize it, but the little ways that you have influenced others for the good, gradually enlarge your reach and your impact on others. You might be surprised.

There are Good and Bad
Without sounding too dichotomous, we have all been influenced by the good and the bad leader, good supervisor, or poor mentor. Hopefully, we have carried a few of the good leadership examples forward with us, which in turn influence those we lead positively. It is important to retrospectively consider who influenced us, and why. It would be far preferable for others to consider how our actions impacted and influenced the footprints they are making.

Course Adjustment or Wake up Call
Your leadership journey is about considering carefully how you would want to be considered after many years. It is never too late for course adjustments to change, or to even evaluate whether you making the right imprint or “footprint” on others.

The Benefits of Storytelling

Storytelling sometimes gets a bad rap. It implies that to tell someone a story, means that a half-truth or diversion is being communicated.

In reality, the power of a story has many practical benefits and can bridge gaps in knowledge where information or professional literature cannot. Humans often connect around common themes, and themes can be in many circumstances communicated well using a well formed story. Traditions, and human beings for centuries if not more, have used the story as a way to connect, learn, or communicate important things. Cave drawings? They were forms of getting messages to others.

20130408-182132.jpg. Photo by: Brian E. Dick

Reasons a Story Works:
1. Stories communicate meanings to others in non-direct ways.
2. We can reach others better through information that makes us think.
3. Stories often represent common ground, traditions, and ways of holding our interest.
4. Learning is faster.

The reality is: Often others will not listen if material is not seen to pertain to them. Often a message is avoided when it seems too confrontational, unpleasant, or disinteresting. When someone tells a story that communicates a message, it has a higher likelihood of reaching the listener, because they are more open to the information and can decide what they will make of it.

A personal story
“Last evening, as I was putting my daughter to bed, she was upset about the idea of having to go to bed. This is not necessarily uncommon. Instantly however, I decided to use a short family story that helped her connect with one of her personal interests. With what seemed to be a neutral story, opened up influence, and created more conversation. As some time passed, she was ready for bed.”. Whether you are young or old, stories and the use of narrative appears to be a universal approach to connect with others, and motivate others.

Too many people feel talked to, rather than talked with. Using narrative is an important way to build influence, open minds, build rapport, and communicate tough topics in ways that can be received in better ways.

When was the last time you used a story to engage your audience? What would happen to your message, your sales pitch, or your team that you managed if you told a relevant story that connects with the ideas you are trying to communicate? Chances are, others would consider the message more, especially if they connect with many of the underlying ideas.