The Power of Choice in Bolder Leadership

The Power of Choice in Bolder Leadership

Identifying and making courageous choices is where our power lies in our leadership and beyond.

“Everything in your life is a reflection of a choice you have made.
If you want a different result, make a difference choice.”– Anonymous

Bolder Moves Through Bold Choices

Anyone who has followed me for any amount of time knows that I am all about Bolder Moves – bold choices leading to greater levels of impact and fulfillment through the rewards such moves promise.

This is because I want to help as many of you as possible to reap the same benefits I have of getting your courage on and of making those moves most in alignment with your True Selves so you can accumulate every thriving point in your favor.

A Kentucky girl from a single-parent low-income household who moved to Paris with little money, no job lined up and limited French skills, I somehow managed to make a life in this country.

This has included learning to get around in a foreign language (albeit with a strong American accent – lol), graduating from two of its schools and being able to navigate the (thick) red tape to set up a bonafide business here.

It all started by trusting that nudge I felt in my body. That was the choice I made, among many others which have enriched both my professional and personal lives.

One of my beloved teachers talks about the distinction between decision and choice: decision is of the mind (rational, logical), while choice is of the heart (intuitive, pulled by body sensations).

She also says that when it comes to joy and fulfillment, in the war of the heart and the mind, the heart will always win. It always has for me. No question. And that’s my wish for you, too.

Choice is power. Being able to claim our choices – and providing space for others to do so as well – is what distinguishes Bolder Leaders from the not-so-much.

The Power of Choice in the Workplace

Most leaders are aware of their ability (or inability) to create thriving environments for employees to flourish in.Choice

Two basic elements allow humans at work to thrive, the ability to:

  • choose
  • have structure

Based on studies, having choice and control in the workplace are what matters to employees – and their work performance.

Tracy Brower, PhD, writing in Forbes, highlights the issues of choice and control, citing the late Barbara Ehrenreich in her book, Nickel and Dimed, who asserted that lack of control – where employees feel they have no choice – is detrimental to the work environment.

Studies have indicated that employees are more involved when they feel they have control over matters that affect them.

When control is taken away or little is available in jobs of high levels of stress, employees’ health is affected. Not surprisingly, it makes a difference when workers feel that they have some say in their next steps and can make their own choices.

When employees have a greater freedom in their workplaces, stress is lessened and performance is enhanced.

The Goldilocks Choice: A Leadership Analogy

Too much choice – or too little choice – have their downsides.

We all remember the childhood story, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. While the bears are out of their little cottage, Goldilocks tastes from their three different porridge bowls and decides for herself that one is too hot, one too cold…and it’s the middle one, neither too hot or too cold, that she likes best.

Thus, the Goldilocks Principle: just the right amount.

That analogy mirrors how most employees feel about their experiences with choice in the work place.

Experiments have uncovered that if people aren’t given enough choices, they aren’t satisfied. Yet giving people too much choice can result in a feeling of overwhelm and may hinder effective decision making.

We’re all pretty much like Goldilocks. Not too much, not too little. It’s a little bit of both. Leaders who communicate and listen will be aware of what level of choice their employees are comfortable with.

“Leadership is a choice, not a position.” – Stephen R. Covey

How Leaders Can Empower Through Choice & Control

So how do we take the Goldilocks Principle from the fairy tale and transform it into everyday business?

It’s all about providing choices. Where to start?

Communication and trust-building are essential. Leaders need to both empathize with employees’ individual needs and to co-create the path to achieving a common vision with them. In giving workers the space to work out how to both follow their own priorities while remaining true to what the organization requires, leaders are setting the tone for higher levels of engagement and impact from their team.

Brower highlights areas where choices may abound:

  • In work scheduling and locations: Research by Steelcase found that 87% of leaders foresee offering much more flexibility to workers, as to location, hours, and how they work in general. These issues are important (and challenging) to balance. On the one hand, employees face school/day care concerns, other family obligations and the need to take better care of their physical and mental health. On the other, leaders need to have times where teams are gathered physically together.
  • Through work content: Yes, of course leaders need to ensure they and workers are on the same page about what needs to be done and by when– but providing variety in how or where this is done is key. It motivates and lessens burnout and can provide new opportunities to boost enthusiasm and create a sense of being a part of something in the workplace.
  • With colleagues: For sure, we tend to work together well with those with whom we feel ‘in tune’, but oftentimes diversity enhances new lines of thinking and fresh creativity. It’s important for leaders to allow employees choices when working together.
  • Via technology & office settings: Specific chair designs, visibility of windows, lighting and reduced noise levels can all contribute to increased productivity. Yet, most people feel even more motivated when they are able to also have choice in their office location. Technology and the various apps it includes allows for tracking categorized time, working from home and even having a dance off with colleagues!

The most important element in any choice we give our people, however, is the strong sense that they matter to the team and to the company.

The Power to Choose is Powerful in Leadership & Life

Surviving – and thriving – post-pandemic has shown us that we can think outside the box and work in ways never before thought.

Most leaders recognize how debilitating it feels when the power of choice is taken away. We must also remember that those who work for us feel no differently.

In a LinkedIn article aptly titled Leadership: The Power of Choice, author Utpal KC reminds us of Viktor Frankl, the groundbreaking Austrian neuropsychiatrist who believed that we humans have a choice of responses to any stimulus. In other words: between stimulus and response exists the freedom to choose.

Yet, he shares, “My experience is that individuals are so used to their spontaneous response to stimuli that many of them cannot even recognise a possibility of freedom of choice between stimulus and response.”

As I look at my own life and leadership here, I chuckle: how many times have I seen myself as a victim – “stuck with absolutely no way out”? Give me a break! How shortsighted I can be when I am unable to identify all my options and see that I am always at choice. Even choosing not to decide is a choice.

Providing choices is key, this we know.

But perhaps we should also recognize our own power to choose – between that moment of stimulus and our subsequent response to it exists the vast, all-powerful realm of one little word: choice.

As we begin to recognize this freedom within ourselves, so also will we be more effective at offering those we lead the dignity and power that comes from the opportunity of choice.

It was the renowned Frankl who spoke the profound words:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—
to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Choice comes in many forms: from setting simple boundaries to speaking up to stating our needs. The truth is, our choice probably isn’t going to be someone else’s choice. One is neither good or bad.

Rather, it’s the freedom of choice that provides the golden key.

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Hitting the Reset Button: Why Backing Up and Punting is an Impactful “New Normal” Leadership Move

Hitting the Reset Button: Why Backing Up and Punting is an Impactful “New Normal” Leadership Move

“Almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.
– Anne Lamotte

I love Anne Lamotte! She makes me laugh every time 😊. A professional writer known for her witty – and raw – takes on what it means to be human in this messy, painful, and complicated world, yes. And she’s also a human being who, like many of us, is on her own journey of learning to be her Best Self.

When it comes to unplugging for a bit, boy can I relate! For a long time, running around like a chicken with busy-ness was my primary drug of choice: I loved it. It kept me from not having to feel or work through things I really needed to feel and work through.

Extreme Busy-ness Worked For Me – Until it Didn’t.

I distinctly remember one Saturday evening sitting down among friends in Paris fed up with my own unhealthy pattern of pushing myself way past my limits – to the degree that I had mistakenly filled up my diesel car with gasoline instead and arrived abashedly late to our gathering!  My plan to rush ahead and save time had backfired, to say the least…(lol)

While meditation, yoga and regular trips to the beach do a good job of slowing me down often enough now, so that I can role model “Go Slow to Go Fast” – a leadership tenet I often speak of – I can still find myself with a way-too-full-plate and a never-ending agenda. That’s when I need to unplug in a different way.

The end of the calendar year is perfect for resetting for many of us. Whether we celebrate one of the holidays, take off to warmer climates (as I love to do 😊), or just plain take stock of the previous year, re-setting away from our normal schedules is not only good for our physical and mental health, but it also helps us to understand what’s working well in the normal course of our lives – and what needs shifting.

And this is especially necessary with the “new normal” we have all found ourselves in.

Leaders Need to Respond to New Challenges

As I look around, it seems most everyone is on continual overwhelm with the constant changes that beset us each day.

In an interview, Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., president and CEO of SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) and author of Reset: A Leader’s Guide to Work in an Age of Upheaval, says that post pandemic, the world is all over the place:

“What was yesterday isn’t today and that’s going to require some intentionality around changing people’s mindset around that.”

Time for a Reset: How Can Leaders Navigate These Unprecedented Changes?

Some simple advice:

  • Expect change. All the time. Employees today aren’t interested in decades of seniority. Today’s workers job jump. Seeing several jobs in as many years on someone’s resume isn’t a “bad” thing anymore.
  • Reconsider what is an employee. Part of pressing “reset” involves looking at everything differently – including and especially people. An employee today doesn’t fit the definition of an employee from 50 – or even 20 – years ago. And thank goodness! More and more people want to be shown that they matter and belong – as they should and do.
  • Be mindful of how you think about (and value) employees to cultivate more trust. Remember to address the needs of all of your people – not just the more visible ones. For instance, during the pandemic, media often reported “everyone” was working remotely – but what about the nearly 52% of employees who never had that opportunity?
  • Remember who you really are. The constant changes, rush-rush and sense of being out of balance most of the time has led many of us to forget who we really are – human beings. The more we can make that front and center again, the more we can help others to do the same.
  • Have empathy. There is a deficit of it in our world today. This is a subject I’ve written about often, because it’s key to connecting in an authentic way with others – a critical tool to leading anything or anyone.

“The greatest blessing of being present in times of uncertainty is that you can take a step back and really evaluate who you are and where you are going.”
– Rennie Curran

Reset, Re-imagine: Leaders Need to Rethink Their Role

We leaders can’t expect to successfully operate in this new climate of continual change without resetting ourselves: we must deep-dive to ensure that we’re able (and willing) to adapt in every aspect of our business – when the need arises.

To be sure, the old way of thinking about anything – any old expectations, for example – must be transformed by creative thinking – the kind of thinking which can only come when we slow down and take a balcony view on things.

In an HBR article titled simply “Reinventing Your Leadership Team,” the authors noted that we as leaders need to be ever agile, “…to be willing to challenge every aspect of our company: its purpose, its business model, its operating model, its people, and ourselves. And conventional ideas about managing have to be inverted.” Talk about hitting the reset button, right?!

Instead of the old way of doing business of routinely responding to needs and concerns, we (leaders) need to work as a team, refocus and reshape the future – and map a path toward it.

Drawing on research gleaned from studying companies, they formulated a 4-point plan for building a leadership team that can meet these new changes:

  1. Analyze what leadership roles will model the company for the future.
  2. Get the right people in place.
  3. Center the leadership team on steering the company towards its transformation.
  4. To build trust and a culture that fuels its goal, take ownership of the team’s behavior.

With Continual Change, Avoid Perpetual Urgency

“Take a step back. Life gets distorted when you examine things from too close up.”
– Richelle E Goodrich

To cope with the “new normal” of constant change, some businesses have taken to operating in a state of perpetual urgency.

To be sure, many issues require urgency. Yet operating in an atmosphere where a heightened state of urgency is the norm may indicate a leadership or management breakdown.

Having employees in a continual crisis mode has an impact. In a Fast Company article by Camille Preston, researcher Liz Kislik noted a company culture of urgency can lead to overreactions in employees – not to mention poor decision making and a continual state of stress which only creates vicious circles and an unhealthy work atmosphere.

So, how can we lead without urgency in times like this?

It starts with building genuine relationships with employees, visioning a future for the company and mapping a plan to get there.

Another leadership tenet I often refer to is “Relationship Precedes Results.” This is supported by both Patrick Lencioni’s Five Elements of an Effective Team and many, many experiences of being called in to rescue teams who tried – and failed miserably – to prioritize results over the relationships among people. (Wonder how much time – and budget – they may have saved by simply focusing on their true assets in the first place?!)

After focusing on relationships, Preston suggests:

  • Incorporate different types of motivation – other than fear or urgency, which cannot lead to anything optimal anyway
  • Take the time to build and maintain relationships. Again. And always.
  • Encourage and allow employees to take ownership of their work.
  • Frame a culture that focuses on the development of leaders. We can never go wrong here!

Remember…

“Great Leadership sometimes requires taking a step backward in order to take a leap forward.”
— Todd Stocker

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