Smart Leadership

Four Simple Choices to Scale Your Impact

Decipher the Art of Smart Choices

Recall the cinematic masterpiece “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”? The pivotal scene, where Indy must select the Holy Grail amidst a multitude of cups, remains indelible. According to lore, the Grail grants eternal life. Struggling with the choice, Indy lets the antagonist, also pursuing the cup, pick first. With his assistant’s help, the villain selects a golden chalice, drinks from it, and soon succumbs to a horrifying death. The cup’s guardian knight, witnessing the event, comments, “He chose…poorly.”

Indy then opts for a humble cup – the sort a carpenter might craft. The knight validates Indy’s choice: “You have chosen wisely.”

Now, while your decisions might not carry the same stakes, they can still be challenging, with adverse consequences for wrong choices. Strive to make the right decision, one that yields maximum impact, effectiveness, and adds value. Your decisions, after all, influence everyone around you.

In this Summary, we delve into Mark Miller’s concept of the four Smart Choices, supplementing it with strategic frameworks to kickstart your journey.

Ready to invigorate your leadership prowess? Then, let’s delve into some Smart Choices to unleash the Smart Leader within you.

Escape the Quicksand with Smart Choices

Ever felt like you’re sinking in quicksand? Despite your relentless efforts, you only sink deeper. Does success seem elusive? Does your career or life feel like a hollow pursuit?

Many leaders share these sentiments, seemingly grappling with an ever-mounting array of challenges. Like quicksand, they don’t anticipate these difficulties, and once embroiled, they feel trapped and isolated. This metaphorical quicksand ensnares them, making escape a formidable task. So, what’s the typical response? They learn to adapt – to swim in the quicksand.

The nature of this quicksand varies for each individual. Some are entangled in an unending cycle of unproductive meetings; others are swamped by the deluge of emails, texts, and social media posts; interruptions from colleagues disturb the workflow of some, while others find life’s increasing complexity hard to handle. If none of these resonate, then what’s holding you back? Is it a success story that’s run its course? Complacency? Lack of motivation? Exhaustion? Uncontrollable circumstances?

No matter your personal quicksand, rest assured, there’s a path to liberation.

First, let’s identify your quicksand. Jot down the top three obstacles on a notepad or your phone for ready reference. Continually refer to these as you navigate this Summary. By the end, you should have a blueprint for your escape.

As Viktor Frankl observed, there exists a gap between a stimulus and your response. Within this space, you hold the power to choose your response, and therein lies your key to growth and freedom. While the ability to make choices may vary, the choices you can make lend you autonomy and opportunity.

In the forthcoming sections, we will explore the four Smart Choices. Each choice, while impactful in its own right, creates an amalgamated force that unleashes your true potential and amplifies your impact when combined.

 

Dare to face the truth and shape your desired destiny.

Max Dupree, the one-time CEO of Herman Miller, was onto something when he noted, “The first duty of a leader is to define reality.” Sounds pretty straightforward, right? Yet, we find a myriad of leaders steering clear of their reality, beaten by the ghosts of denial, the shackles of arrogance, the mirage of short-termism, or simply the vicious cycle of busyness.

Truth, my friends, is a rock-solid foundation from which strength emanates. As leaders, we must dare to face it. The journey begins with carving out your own universe.

Start with a hard look at your leadership. Ask yourself, “Am I leading effectively? Am I oblivious to any blind spots?” The lens then needs to turn to your team. Are they exceptional, or just about making the cut? What about your leadership team?

Ponder next over your organization. Is it living up to its potential? Are the outcomes aligning with your plans and strategies?

However, don’t overlook the personal front. It’s integral to the picture. Consider your life as it stands today. Is it sustainable? Are you engaged at work, home, and in the community to the degree you wish? And your relationships, are they nourishing or energy-draining? How is your financial stability? What about your health and spirituality? Your role in the community? And the legacy you wish to leave?

Now, these questions are abundant, yes. But they’re essential. They paint your current reality, your starting point. Regularly assess where you stand and envision where you wish to be. Identify gaps and strategize to bridge them.

This isn’t a solo voyage. Welcome fresh perspectives to shed light on your potential blind spots and biases, and to inject fresh ideas. Whether it’s a truth-telling consultant, a mentor, or a professional coach, their external lens can aid your journey.

Are you ready to put your thoughts into action? Take out your pen and notebook. Document areas of your life where reality needs to be confronted. What’s the present truth? Where would you like it to be? Start crafting your roadmap.

Expand your potential and carve out time for contemplation.

Back in 1913, the assembly line brainchild of Henry Ford revolutionized production time for the Model T, slashing it from twelve hours to a mere ninety-three minutes. This breakthrough in capacity unleashed an unprecedented era of mobility for people and products.

Today, we witness even greater capacity enhancements through computing power. From decoding the human genome to housing 7.3 million cores and boasting a staggering 415.5 petaflops, the world’s fastest computer (housed in Japan) promises to be a game-changer.

Impressive as it may be, let’s not forget the most important aspect of capacity growth – the human element. We are reservoirs of untapped potential, awaiting to be released.

Begin with an introspection. Examine your schedule. Weed out activities of low or no value. If you’re invited to a meeting, for instance, inquire about your specific contribution and consider attending only that portion. Cluster similar activities together in your calendar. Employ an activity tracking app to help you gain visibility of your time allocation.

Incorporate some ‘margin’ in your schedule. This is time earmarked for reflection, evaluation, brainstorming, and strategizing – an oasis of insights amid a bustling desert of activities. A full day might seem ambitious, but even a few hours can spark brilliance.

Ready to unlock your potential? Start with a small step. Purge your calendar of a meeting or two every week for the next month. And while you’re at it, create that ‘margin’. You’ll thank yourself later.

 

Harnessing your curiosity can unlock untapped potential.

Miller’s encounter with Fergal Quinn, the CEO of Superquinn, an Irish grocery chain, in 2003, served as an illuminating case study. At the time, Quinn had a chain of about 30 stores. His passion for customer engagement was borderline fanatical, a case could be made that he conducted regular customer focus groups. His curiosity was a driving force, underpinning his approach to customer interactions.

Consider when you last took the time to truly engage with your customers, or more importantly, really listened to them. Being a leader who consistently delivers meaningful impact requires you to hone your curiosity. Rather than curbing this inherent desire to learn and explore, you need to stoke the fire.

A useful starting point is a self-audit of your personal and professional stability. Ponder these questions: Has my customer’s expectations shifted over the past year? Have my team’s expectations morphed since I stepped into a leadership role? Has the company’s strategy evolved over the past five years? Have my personal goals morphed in line with my career progression? How is technology shaping my industry? Is there new competition making my job more challenging?

Stephen Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, aptly painted the picture of a world of incessant tumultuous currents. That image holds true, even if your waters are still calm, it’s only a matter of time until the waves start lapping at your feet. That’s when your creativity and curiosity come into play. Navigating the stormy seas ahead will require innovative solutions, a questioning mindset, learning from others, and working towards a brighter tomorrow. All of these necessitate curiosity.

This curiosity will not only open new doors but also stoke the flames of others’ curiosity. Keep asking “What if… ?” as you seek fresh ideas. Venture on mental explorations of the future, contemplating potential scenarios.

As you feed your curiosity, you will inevitably ignite the same in those around you. This ripple effect can be profoundly beneficial for your organization. Research validates that curiosity fuels creative decision-making, greater respect for leaders, and improved team collaboration.

To fire up your curiosity, why not ask more questions, interact with a diverse group of individuals, and broaden your reading or listening repertoire?

Eager to kickstart your curiosity? Identify something in your life or leadership that you’d like to enhance. Could you devise a low-cost prototype to experiment with? Dive in, test it, learn, and repeat.

Be the architect of your future.

Famed management consultant and author, Peter Drucker, astutely commented, “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” This segues us smoothly into the final Smart Choice: actively creating change for a better tomorrow. A leader’s raison d’être is to propel individuals and organizations towards a preferred future.

Take a leaf out of the playbook of Star Wars’ Luke Skywalker, learn to harness the inherent “Force” within you – your strengths, insights, and capabilities. Direct these energies towards leaving a positive imprint on the world. Ultimately, it’s your thoughts that precipitate your actions, which in turn, shape the outcome.

Visualize a spectrum with “My actions DO impact outcomes” on one end, and “My actions DON’T impact outcomes” on the other. Where we land on this continuum is often influenced by our preference for either of those statements. Regardless of your current position, shifting your mindset towards one of influence is crucial. You can’t wish your way to a better future, you have to act your way there.

Whether it’s a significant or a minor project, concentrate your efforts on elements within your control. Identify tangible actions you can execute to bring about meaningful progress. Aspiring to run a marathon? List down the necessary steps: read relevant literature, devise a rigorous training regimen – you might need to start with walking. Mistakes are inevitable – when they occur, document them, dissect the situation to understand the root cause, and extract valuable lessons.

For subsequent projects, rinse and repeat.

Developing a growth mindset is integral to facilitating change. This involves a lifelong commitment to learning and growth. There’s no room for half-hearted attempts. Take a cue from Yoda’s interaction with a frustrated Luke Skywalker during training. When Luke says, “I’m trying”, Yoda retorts, “Try not! Do or do not. There is no try”. Embody this mindset in your pursuit of growth.

Strive to learn something new each day. At the close of the day, jot down your learnings. Review these at the end of the week, and share your insights. As you progress, celebrate your growth. By fostering a growth mindset, you will discover the Force within you. Use it wisely!

Ready to put thoughts into action? Pick a situation in your life or leadership you wish to change and start today.

Conclusions

Four pivotal Smart Choices will guide your journey: confronting your reality, augmenting your capacity, fueling your curiosity, and orchestrating your change. While each of these individually can drive significant impact, the cumulative effect can supercharge your potential for greater impact.

You might stumble, making regrettable decisions, and your actions might lack consistency at times, but don’t let that discourage you. Embrace these instances as learning opportunities and strive to make better choices moving forward.

If you’ve begun implementing the suggestions in this Summary, you’re well on the way to making influential Smart Choices. Remember, your success hinges solely on you.

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