How do leaders make choices?

This week we have been talking to our students about making choices and decisions.  Making choices is based on what is best for the group or even for us as an individual is what leaders do.  So how do the best leaders make their choices?

The simple answer is you need to consider what the results will be, the good and the bad that will come from the choice.  One way of approaching that is to make a list of the “pros and cons”.  Weighing the pros and cons, and I like to write them down,  will help us to see the consequences – good or bad- that will result from either direction we may take. 

Some choices may be very simple, while others may have more impact on our lives and our happiness.  For instance choosing whether we get a pet or not get a pet, we will weigh out how much fun it will be vs how much work is involved.  We may even weigh the differences and the affects of choosing a dog or a cat.  It may be that an iguana might be the perfect pet for us.

Other choices may be more difficult.  What if we had to choose between going out for a school play or spending more time on school work.  There will be many things to consider both in short term and long term goals that we have.  All leaders need to make these tough decisions and sometimes we are not really sure what to do.  We want to remember that leaders do not have to know all the answers.  They do need to have around them others that they trust though. 

If you are a student you have your parents that you can go to and talk about your list of pros and cons to help you come to a good choice for you.  You may even have other adults in your life that you may want to ask how they see a situation.  Even your friends may be available to speak to, although you do need to be careful that you do not only seek out the advice of those that you think will agree with you. 

If you are an adult it may be your partner or someone in the organization that you work for that may be there for you to bounce ideas off.  It may be a trusted friend or an advisor or for many of us we may have a mentor that we can talk to.  But in the end it is us as the leader that must make the final decisions.  As a leader we do not want to “pass the buck” or even avoid risk-taking completely.  We do want to make informed decisions that with all the information at hand will be best for those that are following us.

Anger management: Tune in

The other day when I was teaching I mentioned to the students that anger management may very well be one of the most important self defenses that we could ever learn.  Think about it for a minute.  Most of us will never be kicked or punched in a violent attack that takes place in the street.  But everyone of us will be angry about something at some point and depending on if we know how to calm down and think about the choices we have, may decide how much difficulty we make for ourselves.

Here are 4 ways that we can practice calming down.
1. Take 3 deep breaths. In fact take more if that is what is needed.
2. Count to ten or count down from ten to one. 
3. Allow ourselves to listen to a friend say “calm down’, or we can practice saying it to ourselves.
4. Visualize in your mind a very peaceful place that you enjoy being.

In all 4 of these examples the idea is to get your self to a place in your head to think about all of your choices and the consequences of each one.  We need oxygen in our brain to think and when we are angry, most people’s breathing gets very shallow and quick and does not get to the brain in sufficient quantities. 

So which technique works for you? Or do you have another method that you use?  some of the kids told me that they go to their room and hit their pillow.  In my next post I will comment on that technique.

Setting priorities keeps us dependable

We have talked before about all of the things that we have to do and of course there are all of the thing that we want to do.  I am 55 years old and I still like to do the ‘want to do’s’ before the things that have real priority in my life.  

When we look at priority items they are generally things that affect other people, many times those who are the closest to us.  As a young person though it was easy for me to think that it did not matter, or that I just did not want to do this or that now and could see  no reason to do so.  How do we help our students think beyond that thought?

First: Help them to list all of the things that are on their plate.  School work, work at home for the family, friends and of course their own fun things to do.  Then give each item a priority label.  You can use something as simple as High, Medium or Low – A, B, C or if they are young a color code.

Second:  Discuss how each item has an affect on other people when they complete them or choose not to complete them.  The higher the priority the more affect it has on others and them as individuals.  This is all about recognizing the perspective of dependability.  You may even discuss how your actions affect them personally.  

Third:  Give examples of those in your family or people in history who kept their word and demonstrated dependability.  Many times the story is better than the lecture or just your desire for them to act in a certain way.

Fourth:  One of the things you will hear me say over and over again is that “we do the right thing because it is the right thing to do”.  I so believe this that I do not believe in bribing a child to do the right thing or dependable thing.  While we can help them think through what the consequences might be for making a bad choice, do not bail them out from choosing to act in an undependable way.  

If they do not tell you about the science project the night before it is due allow them to suffer the consequences.  If they leave their bike out in the rain – let the natural consequence take place.   These are awesome teaching moments – even if it is hard for us as parents to see it happen to them.

One final story.  We have 4 children and have promised all of them to pay for 4 years of college (none of this 5 & 6 year plans) and 6 months of living expenses after they get out of college.  After that, they are on their own.  You can imagine how when the first one got to the 6 month period and wanted more support – it was hard to stick to our commitment.  And it was our only girl, that made it that much harder.  But in the end she figured it out – she got through it and is doing very well today.   This was not just a great lesson for her but for the 3 boys that followed.  Believe me they all knew that we were committed to our word.  We could be depended on both for the good and the “Oh that hurts”.  

In the end the best way to teach dependability is to demonstrate it – even when it is challenging to do so.

The choice to show discipline

We have talked about all the rules and those that make them for us the last time with a special emphasis on the rules that we make up for ourselves.  When we make rules for ourselves like, ‘I am going to listen intently to others when they speak to me’, or I am going to work diligently to learn this new skill,  it is far more likely that we will demonstrate discipline and fulfill this promise to ourselves. 

Really though it is about making choices.  Every choice that we make has an outcome and a ‘consequence’ that goes with it.  This is a very simple principle that is key for our children to learn.  It is important for them to correlate choices with consequences – good and bad.

The formula is very simple E + R = O.  Event plus your Response (choice) will have an Outcome.  When we decide as adults or children that we will be 100% responsible for our choices and there outcomes (consequences) then we will be well on our way to creating the life that we want for ourselves.

How do we teach this to our children?  We can do this by creating opportunities for  some choices and then allowing them to have some failures and reap the consequences that go with them.  We only make progress in any endeavor when we have a failure and then work through it and get better / stronger on the other side.  

Never having a failure or not being allowed to have a disappointment from time to time does not build character.  It only builds an attitude of entitlement that will soon learn that in the real world not everything is going to go our way.

Making choices responsibly

Winston Churchill once said;  “The price of greatness is responsibility.”  But have you ever known someone who wants the power and glory and wants to be in charge, but as soon as something goes wrong does not want to take responsibility for anything?  We saw this on a large scale in the past few months with the economic crisis here in the United States.

The same thing happens in our individual homes and families too.  One thing that will always be true is that the choices we make today will affect us not just today but many times for years to come.  That is why I continue to emphasis to our students not to think about not doing something because they might get in trouble – but rather because the choices we make have a long term affect on us and we want to do what is  right because it is right.

The way we deal with choices and responsibility affects our ability to be a leader in our family or in government.  When we blame others, we give up our power to affect change.  Dealing with choice and consequences responsibly impacts our ability to be a leader.