Leadership and Choice


“Leaders live by choice, not by accident.” Mark Gorman, author.

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Choice. A simple, easygoing word which leads most of us to trivialize its importance. But nonetheless it holds enormous power in the exercise of Leadership as well as life in general.
***
In a recent Leadership course, I gained a powerful perspective from the following classroom experiment relating to ‘Choice’. The experiment required of us the following.

1. Identify what there is for you to do in your life that you feel obligated to do, or that you are doing based on a set of reasons for doing them, and write it down.
2. As an experiment, choose to do the thing it would be legitimate to say you are obligated to do (or have no “choice” about doing), and now write them down as what you are choosing to do. (“I choose to …”.)
3. Now check and see whether your experience of the item occurs for you (shows up for you) differently.

One aspect in my life that occurs to me as an obligation is, ‘Hang onto my current job, work profile and industry’.

I then experimented with rewriting the above aspect as a free choice of mine, which then became, ‘I choose to be in my current job, work profile and industry in an empowering, relevant and effective manner.’

I was taken aback by the remarkable shift in the way the situation occurred for me by the mere change in the language as above.

I could see that when I exercise ‘Choice’, it is intrinsically me, my inner convictions and I start ‘owning’ that choice; it occurs less burdensome. I start feeling heightened energy, passion and confidence. I can sense more possibilities and way forward opportunities apart from an intrinsic commitment to do the best I can.

Contrast this with when I used the language of obligation and the burden that brings in, constraining possibilities and pathways. I then see myself in a space of forcible acceptance, fearful of consequences. I go through the motions, rely on instructions to proceed, avoid risks etc. I see a drag and loss of energy.

I started seeing the power residing within the ‘language of Choice’.
***

I recall a couple of situations in which the way I perceived making a choice impacted both myself and others in a positive or negative way.

One time when I had to treat my family out to dinner, my wife and daughters left the choice of selecting the restaurant to me. Post dinner, my wife remarked that she had not enjoyed the Italian cuisine all that much and how she wished, I had chosen an Indian restaurant. I remember reacting back angrily as to what had stopped her from giving this preference earlier on. I then tried to justify my selection based on good word of mouth feedback of friends. Basically I ended up not taking responsibility of my own choice and putting the blame on my friends instead. To evade criticism of my choice, I had painted myself into a ‘victim’ corner.

Another time, my family left the choice of selecting which movie we should go to. After the movie, my wife and daughter were unanimous in rating the movie as terrible. On this occasion however, I stood firm as I declared, “Because of its philosophical insights, I wanted all of us to watch and learn from this movie.” Without really realizing it at that point in time, I showed up as having made a choice of my own free will and held the courage to take responsibility for it. As I articulated my choice in this manner, I felt empowered.

Do we realise that at its very essence, Leadership is a choice? Just as is living life. Everything about Leadership, as with life, begins with a choice. A choice which we make.
***

In literature, Leadership and decision making appear to be near synonymous. We tend to overlook the fact that any decision really comprises of a chain of small but significant choices. Even when we bring in our biases, perceptions and assumptions and rationalize and justify based on these, that is our choice too. Our choice, and the corresponding decision flowing out of that, further gets coloured and shaped (or shall I use the word forced?) by our positional, inter-personal or cultural compulsions. We remain largely unaware of this aspect, falsely believing that how the situation occurs for us is how it really is and that our reaction is correct and logical. We fail to see that we in fact have got onto rails and are unable to exercise any freedom relating to other possibilities available to us to deal with what is at hand. A far cry from effective leadership which is all about opening up choices and possibilities, not limiting them.
***

Richard J. Leider, the author of the international bestseller, ‘ The Power of Purpose’ writes that in twenty years of his interviewing elderly leaders aged over 65, he discovered something profound relating to ‘Choices’. To his question, “If you could live your life over again, what would you choose to do differently?”, he heard the articulation of three themes getting repeated over and over again.

“I would choose to be more reflective, take time to think because life passes so quickly and I was too busy doing to think adequately.”

• “I would choose to be more courageous, take more risks; I played it too close to the vest”.

• “I would choose to be clear, far earlier, on what my purpose was in life”.

In learning….. Shakti Ghosal

Acknowledgements:

1) “Being A Leader And The Effective Exercise Of Leadership: An Ontological / Phenomenological Model” by Werner Erhard, Independent & Michael Jensen, Jesse Isidor Straus Professor of Business Administration Emeritus, Harvard Business School.
2) “The Power of Purpose” by Richard J. Leider, May, 2010.

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20 thoughts on “Leadership and Choice

  1. Truly excellent. Loved your dinner and movie examples– I suspect we could all identify with being in those predicaments. I know I could! And those three answers to What would you do differently? were extremely powerful– well worth meditating upon. Great post. Reading it made me feel empowered– no joke! : )

    • Hi Mark,

      Thank you. I see myself as a transferor of Leader and Leadership competences and thoughts. I love it therefore when I hear you say you feel empowered after reading the post. I would be delighted to offer you any further support that you might need.

      Thank you for taking the time to comment.

      Shakti

  2. I like describing and understanding choice as also being linked with leadership. It is always important to me to make choices that improves my situation (as humans we are wired this way), but only when I can take into account those I love, friends and community. This is where leadership comes into play…as often the best thing for me (us) are things that we do not see right away, can be difficult to understand and yet are the right decisions.

    • That is a great comment.

      Indeed, the classical thought about Leadership is to be able to articulate choices, understand their implications relating to the situation at hand and then deciding which one to implement.And yes, the selection and implementation is all about how to improve on what we started off with.

      To me , the second part of your comment is really what leadership is all about. It is the ability to take on board the concerns of all relevant parties- people you love, friends and community on a personal level, as you have rightly mentioned, but at the organisational level, the stakeholders would be many more- and aligning the path chosen so that the concerns of all relevant parties are addressed. It is only then that space is created for an envisioned future into which all relevant parties come to live into. That indeed is what leadership is all about.

      Thank you for taking the time to visit and comment.

      Shakti

  3. Hi Shakti… Your post is truly interesting…. the three main pòints related to leadership and choices are so important when in comes to make decision I guess.
    Good leaders can be doubtful… they are peeps focussed on actions
    The post is thought ‘provoking and I enjoy your insights on the subject!.
    Thanks for sharing… All the best to you ⭐ Aquileana 😀

    • Hi Aquileana,

      Delighted to know that you found the post interesting.

      To me a good leader is someone who can support articulation of a created future which addresses the concerns of all relevant parties including those being led by the leader. A future which otherwise would not have happened.

      Cheers

      Shakti

  4. Shakti, yes. I appreciate that you acknowledge your part in making the choices you’ve made. Often people project their frustration and anger on others because of the simple fact that they refuse to take that responsibility. Even though, in the end, it would be far more empowering.
    Aloha.

    • Dear Bela,

      As we negotiate life, it is so very often that we wind up becoming inauthentic,a people pleaser. We get conditioned to show up as, someone, we believe, people would like us to be, not who we really are.The need to be liked is a strong life sentence.This intrinsic need of ours leads to many of the choices we make.To be able to take responsibility, one needs to, first and foremost, remain authentic in terms of being and acting consistent with who you hold yourself out to be for others, and who you hold yourself to be for yourself.

      Thank you for your great comment, Bela. Appreciate.

      Shakti

  5. Shakti …

    Thank you for this excellent advice: “Leaders live by choice, not by accident.” Mark Gorman, author.

    I once did that shift in thinking. I was in a job where I didn’t feel appreciated. I began to look at what the company valued and realized I needed an attitude adjustment. Once I began thinking more positively about my job, an amazing thing happened. My bosses began to feel more positively about me. It was an eye-opening experience.

    The result? I fell in love with a job that I had – at one time – wanted to leave.

    Judy

    • Dear Judy,

      Loved your comment and the shift you brought about and saw in your own life.

      As I have said in my post, the shift needs to be in the way a situation occurs for us. As this occurring changes, so also does our our way of being ( and our thoughts and thought processes are part of this) and our actions. In your case, you initiated the change of occurring regarding your job and the results were so visible to your bosses and to your own-self!

      Blessings.

      Shakti

  6. A great piece here, Shakti. I am reminded of one of my favorite expressions from the genius Walter Russell, who said, “What I must do, I will desire to do, and make an art of it.” It has been a while since I read it exactly, but it was something to that effect. It is indeed empowering to choose to be where we are. I find it brings meaning, and ironically frees up the entire experience to transform, just as you have described.

    Michael

    • Hi Michael,

      Thank you for your kind acknowledgement. Thank you also for bringing in Walter Russel’s thoughts.

      The quote of Walter Russell, himself a multi-faceted genius, which I like is this one: “Mediocrity is self-inflicted and genius is self-bestowed.” The essence of Choice, of choosing, is brought home so powerfully in this one.

      I truly appreciate your taking the time to comment here.

      Shakti

  7. Shakti, it is so good to see you! I hope that this finds yo well. Your words are wonderful, and wonderfully true. However, were I to live my life again – I should simply do so with gratitude. I probably would not change a thing.

    • Hi Liz,

      Great to see you here and thank you for your kind acknowledgements.

      Gratitude holds great power in shifting the occurring of the world for oneself as also for others. It leads to the creation of positive energy that can lead us to live into a new world. That itself would be a great change for you and all the others in your world, is it not?

      Cheers

      Shakti

  8. Wonderful my friend 🙂 I read a book not long ago called Words Can Change Your Brain by Dr. Andrew Newberg and Mark Robert Waldman…It is truly astonishing how much of our self talk dictates our life and without us even realizing it until how we think and speak is brought to our attention. The power of words is far greater than most even realize. Just as your exercise showed you. The simple rephrasing of our vocabulary can alter things greatly. If we take the time to monitor our thoughts and conversations and choose to rephrase them with a positive spin, life changes, we change. Decision making is a critical part of life and really holds the ultimate power of deciding if life will flow or resist for us. Thought provoking as always Shakti 🙂 Chose wisely and remain at peace within my friend…Blessings…VK

    • Dear Vk,

      Wonderful to see you and and your comment ( as always!).

      Recently, I was engaged in a Leadership progeam based on the Ontological / Phenomenological method developed by Werner Erhard and others. One of the key concepts practised in the program was the use of language to shift contexts as also create a future which otherwise was not going to happen anyway.One element of the contextual frameworks for Leaders and Leaderships is the phenomenon which impacts one in the leadership role. This again is the words (language) that impacts you and others, actions which speak louder than words and a certain kind of authentic listening (to words spoken by others) which supports past issues to get complete. All this lies in the realm of language.

      Thank you VK for this great perspective you have brought into the discussions here. I truly appreciate.

      Shakti

  9. Hi Shakti. Nice to see you!
    I’ve always told my daughter that choice is the essence of life. There is no such thing as “no choice,” since even that is a choice. So, as long as we MUST choose, let’s choose THAT by which we are proud to stand – whatever THAT is.
    Lovely reflection on a Sunday morning. Thank you! xoxoM

    • Hi Margarita,

      Great to see you here as also your comment.

      You have provided a lovely context to your daughter as she goes out to determine her choice. To’take a stand one can be proud of’ is a great foundation on which our lives can be built. Such a foundation would become bigger than our own selves and would end up attracting others to the stand we have taken. This is what epitomises Leadership!

      Thank you and I appreciate your presence here.

      Shakti

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