Leadership and Main

Bettering Others and the World You Live In

Choices Are Everything

Choices are everything in life. Do you desire to be more successful? Yes? Then, let’s share a not very well-kept secret: successful people generally make better choices than not so successful people. Duh …

But now for some hopeful insight. I contend that there are only four choices in life:

  1. I choose my attitude.
  2. I choose between short-term gratification and longer-term development.
  3. I choose whether or not to take a risk.
  4. I choose my associates.

That’s it! There are no other choices in life. Every decision I make is some combination of these four choices. And these choices are highly interdependent. Get one right and it improves the probability of getting another right. Screw one up and the dominoes can start falling.

So, let us take a brief look at these four choices.

I Choose My Attitude

I choose how I react to events, most of which I have no capacity to control. Question: when you arise each day, do you say, “good morning God” or “good god, it’s morning”? You see, “I am responsible for my attitude.” Now that statement did not originate with me. I first read it in the 1970’s in a book entitled, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. If you get nothing else out of this little blog post, you should read that book. He’ll become your hero.

desire to be successful
Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl

But there are other heroes of attitude. There’s physicist Stephen Hawking, who at age 20 was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy and given two years to live. Hawking died a couple of years ago at age 77, and while some may credit his longevity to his intellect, I say oh contraire … it was the power of his attitude.

And there is Helen Keller, who wrote, “I am so grateful for my afflictions, they have allowed me to come to terms with myself, my skills, and my God.”

But attitude management also allows a certain pragmatism that improves our ability to react to mismatches, as reflected in the Stockdale Paradox.  Or, it gives us the capacity to follow the advice of Teddy Roosevelt … “when the horse you are riding is dead … dismount!”

Attitude … it’s our choice.

I Choose Between Short-term Gratification and Longer-Term Development

For contemporary examples of the downside of this choice, we see monumental debt, astronomical divorce rates, and excessive hostility in the face of disagreement. In business, we have the Siren Song of quarterly earnings.

Now, most of us are not desirous of being monks wearing hair shirts. There is the need for short-term gratification. Sometimes we should reward ourselves … sometimes we must reward our people. There is a need for dividends as well as growth. So, the longer-term side of this choice is not the only choice.

But there is an emotional intelligence operating here that says one should err on the side of restraint. This emotional maturity can appear at a very early age. And there is science to back this up … no matter how, ahem, soft this science may appear. I speak of the Marshmallow Test (Google it).

In 2006, Business Week magazine devoted an entire issue to the topic of leadership.  Leaders from many walks of life – politics, sports, entertainment, faith, business – contributed short articles on leadership.  Although I have spoken/written on this phenomena, I was still blown away by how often the following words appeared – preparation, preparation, preparation. Prepare yourself!

Timing … it’s our choice.

I Choose Whether or Not to Take a Risk

What we really mean here is that I choose whether or not to expose myself to the possibility – and consequences – of failure. We need to understand that the fear of failure is one of the most explanatory factors in all organizational behavior! I can explain almost all apathy as the fear of failure; I can explain up to half of all aggression as the fear of failure; and I can explain almost all passive aggression as the fear of failure.

In my consulting, I generally found myself working with executives to assess market, financial, and operating risk. The individual differences in risk-taking tendencies (and fear of failure) were very significant. But those categories of risk, in life’s choices, are not what really matters. What really matters is behavioral risk … not looking like a fool. Being willing to alter my behavior, under conditions of uncertainty, so as to respond to or create a mismatch.

About 10 years ago, on his Business Week question and answer page, Jack Welch was asked what was the most important quality of a leader.  Welch’s answer almost jumped off the page, “That’s simple – authenticity!  Being willing to risk revealing who you are and what you stand for.”

Taking risks does not mean folly.  In my opinion, one of history’s biggest fools was Samson is scripture.  Where risk taking is concerned – actually, all of the choices – Samson was a buffoon.  As my old dad used to say, too often directed at me, “life is tough … but it’s tougher … if you’re stupid!”

A couple of years ago, some scholars at Yale interviewed one hundred, ninety plus year-old people. One question they asked them was what they would do differently if they could do things over.  Their modal answer – take more risks.

Risk … it’s our choice.

I Choose My Associates

I like to have a little fun by coming up to people who are talking with friends of mine and warn them that they better look out, they are judged by those they are seen with.  Although I mean it in jest – and affection – this is profoundly true.

There are three categories of associates that we must briefly address: spouse, work associates, friends.  And, of course, these could be inter-correlated.

First, I choose my spouse … I choose to love.  Unfortunately, those are not necessarily the same. We recall how each of the categories of choice are interdependent.  And where choice of spouse is concerned, this interdependence is beyond significant.

Second, I choose my work associates.  To quote Jim Collins in Good to Great, I get the right people on the bus.  And, we need to focus our attention on the following: Select attitude … train/develop skill.

Finally, I choose my friends … those with whom I hang. These are the associates I become most alike … or, hopefully, aspire to. Thus, choose friends who have that critical human characteristic – HUMILITY – it just might rub off on you.

Associates … it’s our choice.

Conclusion – Choices are Everything in Life.

So these are life’s choices – individual choices, family choices, business choices.  They are the profound choices.  Truly, the choices you make, make you.  Choices are everything in life!

Ordinary to Extraordinary Intersection

Do you truly accept the fact that you and only you choose your attitude?  Are you choosing to play the short or long term game when it comes to gratitude?  Who are you choosing to surround yourself with?  Are you willing to take more risks?  Do you desire to be successful?  

Dr. George E. Manners has decades of experience as an educator, consultant and business executive.  His primary expertise is in strategy development, organization design, operational modeling, management accounting, and the management of technology. He is senior author of Managing Return on Investment and has over 40 articles in a wide range of journals. His clients over the past 25 years include GE, IBM, Cyanamid, Philip Morris, Bank of America, Weyerhaeuser, Georgia Pacific, Cox Communications, WellStar Health System, McKee Foods, and Beaulieu. Dr. Manners has occupied tenured positions at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Clemson University, and Kennesaw State University, where he is Emeritus Professor of Accounting and Management. He and his wife, Beth, currently live in Acworth, Georgia. They have three grown children, six grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.  You can connect with George at [email protected] or follow him on social media.

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