Your biggest choice ever defines you as a leader. Today we explore this leadership moment. Because leadership is being at the crossroads of choices we focus in this KEY on this biggest choice. The default option chosen by most is easy but dangerous. If ever there was an important resolution to make, this is it. Discover this key and teach it today to someone you care for. When you teach the KEY to someone else, it becomes your own.
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Your Biggest Choice Ever
"What are the three main religions in the world?" I asked a group of executives as we gathered for the second day of their leadership summit.
A ripple went through the room because of the unwritten rule that you are not supposed to bring up religion in a corporate meeting. The executives came from four continents and diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. After a moment of silence someone volunteered an answer: Christianity, Islam and Buddhism. "Yes," I said, "but I am asking about the other three major religions." It was not a trick question but a reframing challenge.
Sensing their confusion, I said: "Christianity, Islam and Buddhism may be the three largest organized religions, but what are the three major religions people pledge themselves to? Reframe for a moment the meaning you attach to the word religion." I said. "Think of it not as an institution but as a mindset people pledge themselves to practice. What are the three mindsets that govern people's way of going on at work and in life - the three mindsets that direct people's response and engagement?"
The Three Mindsets
Here are the three mindsets that we named as religions because people pledge allegiance to them and because they guide people's beliefs and behavior:
The first religion is the mindset of "What's wrong." This mindset is the most prevalent; it is the easiest of all and it gets the most air time. Ninety five percent of what is presented every day as news is made of fault, blame and what's wrong. Unless you make a different choice, finding "What's wrong" is the default mindset.
The second religion is the mindset of "What works." A minority of perhaps only 5 percent of the population practice this religion. But, thank God, it often prevails. The world progresses by "What works." Choosing to follow the path of "What works" and making it your template of response brings multiple blessings and energy. You empower yourself to participate in shaping and creating what happens.
The third religion and mindset builds upon the second and is the rarest of the three. This is the mindset of "What matters." All of us have the instinct of this mindset but few act upon it to make "What matters" our central self-directed choice. For many people the impulse of "What matters most" is often covered by the "Myth of Tomorrow." This is the myth that says: "Tomorrow / next year / in five years, when I finish doing the things I have to do, I will be able to focus on 'What matters'."
The Blind Spot
Beware of the Myth of Tomorrow, for it can lead you to Disappointment Valley, where you get free admission to Hotel Regret. The Myth of Tomorrow breeds a double blind spot. First, all you really have is today, now, this moment. Tomorrow may or may not arrive; today is here, this moment will not come again. The opportunity and power of now, this moment, is overlooked for what might happen tomorrow or next year, which may or may not be there for you. Many live their lives looking forward to their vacation or the weekend or their next success, while not taking stock of the moments, hours and days that constitute their engagement with life. This moment, this now, is brief but what we do with it builds what happens next: the summation and aggregated value of our many "nows" fashion our tomorrows.
The second blind spot is not seeing that what you do today, and the way you do it, creates a pattern and a habit which condition your engagement tomorrow. When you say "I will begin to do this in 7 years," the question is, will your conditioning and the habits you created allow you?
Making "What Matters" Work
Making a pilgrimage to the hills of "What matters" is a series of choices taken time and time again. Plus, when "What matters" is not supported by "What works", it is a wish or a hope, not a practiced way of engagement. Something has "to work" and "to be" before it can really matter.
These are the three major mindsets - the "religions" people choose to practice: "What's wrong," "What works" and "What matters." Every day you find yourself at this leadership crossroads and the choice you make in between these defines you as a leader and your template of response and engagement.
Having explained that, the executives present in this leadership summit all went quiet. For a moment no one spoke. Many in the group appeared to be lost in deep reflection. It seemed we were touching something beyond the differences of our upbringing, a vein we all share.
The Two Conversions
When you deepen in the mindset, of "What matters," most traditions and religions agree. They each speak of the "Golden Rule," such as:
And there are other eternal messages, such as: As you sow, so shall you reap; Ask and you shall be given, and more directions and messages about "What matters."
In the mindset of "What works," each of the traditions, religions, spiritual paths have their unique ways, practices and disciplines.
In the mindset of "What's wrong," organized religions often disagree and fight with each other.
Moving from "What's wrong" to "What works" is simple but involves a pivotal and challenging decision. The conversion to "What works" is a shift from victimhood to personal responsibility. Choosing to take personal responsibility is the most pivotal decision you and I can make. Indeed, your biggest choice ever is to let go of focusing on "What's wrong" in favor of taking the mindset of "What works."
The second conversion from "What works" to "What matters" is in moving from success to significance.
Reflect and Act
As you approach an end of a year and the beginning of a new year take time to reflect on your leadership crossroads. Here are six ways to apply the second and third mindsets and leave the first for those who cannot or will not bother to make a higher choice.
- When you find yourself obsessing on what's wrong, pick yourself up and find something that works for you and that you can focus on to make a difference. Develop an internal warning system that alerts you and gets you to shift from problems to solutions.
- Before pointing out what's wrong, point to two things that work. Even when you look at something that failed, identify two or more things in it that worked.
- Develop a weekly ritual of focusing on two or three things that matter.
- Engage a coach to help you stay focused on what works and on what matters most for you.
- Look at your team and organization and ask: What works here? What matters most to us? What works for our employees, clients, and partners? And what do we believe matters most for them?
- Develop an annual pilgrimage to the "What matters" resort where you swim in Lake Significance and enjoy the sunshine of meaning, purpose and true wealth.
Now it's your turn. Turn the key. Coach your people to focus on "What works" and on "What matters." Take the leadership crossroads. Become a leader of "What works" and "What matters." Create dynamic new futures for you and your people.
© Aviv Shahar