Choice; it’s a simple, yet critical aspect of leadership. Academics and business theorists often gloss over the basics of leadership preferring to trivialize their importance. It’s far too easy for those with an elitist approach to leadership to dismiss simple as sophomoric, and obvious as irrelevant – nothing could be further from reality. Leadership has little to do with complex theory, but everything to do with understanding the subtleties of human behavior. Just as you must choose whether or not to lead, it’s your choice whether or not to read on – choose wisely.
At its essence, leadership isn’t a job – it’s a choice. Everything about leadership begins with a choice – even accepting a leadership role. Whether leaders are elected, appointed, anointed, or self-proclaimed, and regardless of whether it is by design or default, at some level you make a choice to be a leader. Once you make that choice, you then must choose whether or not to lead well.
It’s often said leaders succeed or fail based upon the decisions the make. While the aforementioned statement is true to an extent, it glosses over a fundamental element of the decision process – choice. All decisions are the result of several seemingly insignificant choices. By the way, these choices are only insignificant to the arrogant, naive or inexperienced. It’s also important to keep in mind, rationalizations and justifications are choices too.
It’s not uncommon for leaders to feel forced into making certain decisions due to personal, professional, positional, cultural, or political circumstances. That said, leaders are never forced into anything – they make a choice. Leadership is also not a matter of chance; it’s a matter of choice. While flawed and/or failed leaders often blame happenstance as the reason for poor outcomes, it’s their choices that deserve scrutiny when searching for the root cause of calamity. There is an art to choice, and smart leaders always place themselves in a position to create and preserve options; not limit them.
The best leaders I’ve worked with have a framework for developing priorities, which in turn, allows them to make outstanding choices. They have a clear understanding of who they are, what they value, and where they will or won’t compromise. This affords them tremendous clarity of purpose. It also gives them the ability to align vision with talent and allow important decision making to be pushed to the edges of the enterprise. They recognize it’s quite possible to be very focused, without becoming rigid. Great leaders understand there is more to be gained through flexibility and collaboration than by edict or mandate. They simply make wise choices.
The choices leaders must make are seemingly endless. Leaders choose to control or collaborate, and to lead change or to embrace status quo. It’s a choice to value being right over seeking the right outcome. Leaders choose to be aloof or to be engaged. It’s a choice to be self-serving or to place service above self. A leader always has the choice to take credit or to give credit. Leaders can choose to create culture by default or design, and perhaps most of all, a leader must choose to care.
Leadership shouldn’t ever be complex, but the reality is it’s often very difficult. Leaders must choose to display the character and integrity required to make hard choices, personal sacrifices, and to do the right thing (not just the popular thing).