Today’s post is written by a LEAD 365 alumnus for other alumni. Ken Horner is the vice president of quality for Gentex Corporation. Ken was part of a LEAD 365 cohort that kicked off in March 2015 and wrapped up this past February. We’re excited to have Ken share his thoughts with you today!

Fellow Leaders,

Our ability to make logical choices (or not), is one of the things that separates humans from most other life forms. As leaders, the ability to make better choices helps us become—and remain—leaders worth following. 

I’d like to share a thought I’ve had recently regarding making better choices. I’ll spare you most of the boring backstory, but this thought came to me as I was struggling with recent choices I had been making around my health and how I was responding to someone who I was frustrated with. Through those struggles, I homed in on an idea that’s helped put me in a better frame of mind to respond to both. While I know this point isn’t original or particularly earth shattering, I feel that it has helped me to make some better choices recently, and my hope is that it might help some of you make better choices, too.

First, what do I mean by a better choice? Whether we’re talking about something that affects only us, such as eating a donut when we’re trying to lose weight, or something that affects someone else, like how we respond to a difficult coworker, we almost always have multiple options to choose from. Back to the donut for example: we could eat the whole thing, eat a bite and throw the rest away, eat half and leave the other half for someone else, etc. The fact is that very seldom do we have only one option in any given situation. 

For most of us, our choices are also framed in the context of something larger: What are our health goals long term? How do we believe we should treat others? What do we want our legacy to be? Whether you can articulate the answers to those questions or not, most of us have made choices that we know don’t align with our long-term goals. A better choice, therefore, is one that more closely aligns with our long-term aspirations and goals.

The point I’d like share with you is this: To make better choices, you may need to focus as much on the process of making a choice as on the actual choice itself. Let me share a story from my childhood to help illustrate what I mean. When I was fairly young, probably eight or ten years old, I was obsessed with fishing. I loved to fish and spent as much time down at the creek or on the shore of the lake near our house as I could. To help improve my skills, I also decided to read anything and everything I could get my hands on about fishing. One article I read (I really wish I knew from which magazine and issue it was) really stuck with me, and I’ve thought about it countless times over the years. I believe it is a close parallel to what I’m about to share. 

While I’ve long forgotten the author’s exact words, in essence he or she said that to catch more fish, go to the lake, put some bait on your hook, and rather than think about catching fish, think instead about everything that goes in to making the perfect cast, then work on executing that perfect cast. Essentially the author was saying that by focusing on the process and not the result, the likelihood of the desired result increases. I’ve been experimenting lately with this concept as it relates to choices I’ve been making and feel that the same is true elsewhere in life—by focusing on the process of decision making, the likelihood of the desired result increases. 

So what do I mean by focusing on the process? There are certainly many factors, but the questions below have helped me focus on the process and make what I think are better decisions:

  • Do I need to make this decision now?
  • Do I truly have all the information needed to make a great decision?
  • Am I in the right emotional state to make a great decision?
  • Most importantly, what are the choices that would best align with my beliefs and long-term goals? 

By focusing on a few questions as part of the process, I’ve found myself able to more easily make choices that fit better with what’s truly most important to me.

While this may seem a bit tedious, or maybe overkill, with many of the decisions we make each day, I’ve found that is really doesn’t take that much time, and that the number and quality of the choices I end up with are greater than had I simply made the decision while on autopilot. And, yes, I believe the choices I’ve made using this approach have had a higher ‘hit-rate’ in terms of making the better choice. I’ve been able to drop a few pounds without feeling like I’m making the ultimate sacrifice, and that person who’s been driving me nuts—well, it’s turned out that I can decide not only how to respond to him in a way I’m proud of, I can even decide to not let him drive me nuts in the first place. The choices are all mine!

By focusing on the process, and trusting the process to deliver great results, you may just find that it takes away some of the conflict between short-term desires and long-term results. I truly believe this approach to decision making is helping me, and I hope it can help you, too.

Lead on!

Image by Jan Svendsplass. Used under CC BY 2.0 license