To Lead is to Choose

by Sandy Nelson on June 1, 2011

The role of the leader is to inspire, enroll and align, mobilize and focus. Inherent in each of these is the responsibility to choose.

Inspiration involves reading the world, reducing complexity to essence and declaring a future. To make a declaration about the future requires the leader to make a choice among alternative possibilities.

To enroll people around the declaration requires the leader to build and put forward a compelling business case that is perceived to have relevance to and benefits for those who would follow. The vision must then be articulated more broadly through the telling of a story that is sufficiently seductive to engage hearts, minds, creativity and commitment. The leader must create (choose) the narrative that comprises the story and when, where and how to tell it.

To align people around a path of action that leads to the achievement of vision, a universe of possibility must be analyzed and assessed in order to choose the promises, commitments, metrics, milestones and timelines that will collectively delineate the game plan and road map to success. This is, again, a core responsibility of leadership.

To mobilize action and resources, the leader returns to story: “here’s where we are going, why, how we will get there, what success will look like and the actions we must take to move us forward”. Mobilization is driven by choice.

To bring focus to action, priorities must be set—chosen.

Leadership is a responsibility granted in exchange for value added. When the leader is perceived to consistently add levels of value that moves the ball definitively forward toward the future of choice she has articulated, those who follow are inclined to continue to offer support and advocacy.

But, and this is a big “but”, leaders who waffle—avoid, delay, equivocate or abdicate choice to others – quickly begin to lose the confidence, commitment and advocacy of those they have been asked to lead. Here begins a very slippery slope that inevitably leads to disaffection, key talent attrition, declining results and, ultimately, either enduring mediocrity and/or the ascension of a new leader.

In the world we live in today, to thrive is more often than not to choose to change. But, for legacy players seeking the comfort of the familiar, change is frightening. When presented with the choice to step outside comfort zones in order to change, resistance often evolves into creative maneuvering to undermine or redirect the bold choices of leadership.

Few aspects of effective leadership are easy. The job of the leader is not be liked. It is to choose.

What choices do you have the opportunity to make—today?


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