Leading From a Place of Choice
By: Christine Watkins
When my daughter was in preschool, we adopted two rescue dogs: a puppy and his very young mama. It seemed like a great idea at the time, until I decided to take my trio – a preschool-aged child, a preschool-aged dog, and a puppy – to a self-service pet wash in an attempt to clean at least one layer of pet shelter stench off the two new members of our family.
My great idea quickly turned into a yelping mess of chaos, with two scared dogs, a yelling preschooler, soap, water, and me, all confined in a 6’x6’ room. In a split second, I realized I had a choice – to lose my ever-loving mind, lock the door, and run away, or to simply let go and join the chaos. I chose the latter. I ended up laughing through the adventure and having an amazing conversation with my daughter. We even managed to get the dogs at least mostly washed but had made quite a wet, soapy mess in the process, so we decided together that we would clean up our station.
As we wrapped up our 2-hour dog-washing session, the owner of the pet wash approached me with a smile and said, “I’ve been listening to your conversations, and I do not know how you managed all you did in such a wonderful way. You explained everything that was necessary, allowed for some laughter, and were so calm, cool, and collected in the chaos. You’re a great parent.” I was stunned and grateful by the recognition of the choices I’d made in said chaos, and I found myself pondering the ideas of choice and intention. (I also found myself soaking wet and being dragged out the door by my still-a-bit-chaotic trio.)
As I work with leaders in my coaching/facilitation practice, I think back to that day and how important choice and intention are in the everyday life of my leaders. I recently was struck by a conversation I had with a friend as he navigated opening a new building in Madrid, Spain and welcomed in over 800 employees. Then, a week later, he closed the new building and shuttled over 800 people home due to the coronavirus. In our conversation, he shared how he was surprisingly calm and couldn’t really believe how well he’d managed everything. “I usually lead in a different way and can be more of a bulldozer. But amidst this crisis, I led my people from a very different place.” He then said something that still stays with me. “You know, it might have taken a pandemic to change me, but I keep wondering about how I could lead like this all of the time…not just during a crisis.” It reminds me of how important choice and intention are in these critical moments of life.
Whether you’re taking a wild trio to a “do it yourself’ dog wash or you’re leading hundreds of people through a crisis, you have a choice in the way you show up. In the way you navigate uncharted territory. In the way you help settle others’ fragile nervous systems. In the way you lead.
During these uncertain times, what if we all thought about how we wanted to show up today AND kept asking that question when it’s over, and we aren’t trying to survive a pandemic. Who do we want to be after we all settle back into a new reality and begin to recover? I think I want to continue to strive to be the everyday leader who leads – in crisis or in peace – from a place of choice and intention.