Who we become as leaders comes not from books or training but from paying attention to the small and big choices we make every day. Just last week my 16-year old called me in a panic around 11:30am. She asked if I could come and pick her up from school. Her voice had a sense of urgency in it. She had a major Chemistry test that she hadn’t studied adequately for and was afraid she would get an “F” on it, severely impacting her overall grade. This (she went on to say in one breath) would destroy her G.P.A., her chances of getting into a good college, and her career plans. Basically, she could write off her life. In that moment, I think she actually believed this and wanted to have the weekend to study for the test. Having had plenty of panic attacks about tests, I felt her fear. A part of me felt compassion for her, another part wanted to have her learn to be more responsible, another part wanted to help her get a good grade. Who was I going to be as a mom and a leader in that situation?
Think back now to a decision where you felt stuck. This often happens when we have competing parts of ourselves wanting expression. As leaders, many times we don’t slow down enough to pay attention to these competing voices. These big and small decisions shape us as leaders, yet, are often unconscious because we make these decisions often from habit, particularly when we are moving fast. In my upcoming book, Wired for Authenticity (June 2015), one of the seven practices of authentic leadership I talk about is “Choose Be Before Do”. In a fast-moving 24/7 work environment, we need leaders today who are both trustworthy as well as agile to the changing needs of a diverse global marketplace. Our habitual patterns don’t serve us. Unlike traditional notions of authenticity (“this is me, take it or leave it”), we need to carefully examine each situation. We need to evaluate the different voices inside of us, and those outside, to make decisions for the benefit of those we lead.
The decision I made in the case of my daughter was to try to calm her down, and to let her know that I would not pick her up so she could avoid a bad grade. I wanted her to face up to the consequences of the choices she had made. Importantly, I wanted her to become present to the fact that we are always making choices, regardless of whether we consciously stop to think about them or not. Consciously or unconsciously, these choices become patterns, and then habits, and then a core part of who we are becoming every day as leaders.Here’s wishing we all stop to choose who we are being before we choose a course of action.
I welcome your comments on this topic and look forward to share more from the book with you.