Choosing Leadership

by  Alan Derek Utley  |  Leadership Development
Choosing Leadership

Conscious Choices

Is being a leader a choice? Or does it just happen?

I believe that leadership requires making conscious choices. Ongoing. Everyday.

I learned this idea of conscious choices from a mentor in the context of coaching others.  He explained that when working with leaders who are in development it is important to help them peel pack the layers of their decisions to uncover why they do the things they do.

Because by creating awareness of the motivations behind our decisions we are able to make better ones.

I loved this idea so much that I made it my new personal mantra: Make conscious choices. And now, when faced with an action, I find it helps to pause and check in with myself:

Hey, self, why are you doing this thing you are doing?

Doing so forces me to mentally scroll through a myriad of questions.

For example, am I doing this thing because I’ve analyzed all the angles and possible outcomes and decided this is the best choice? Or, am I doing this because this is how we’ve always done it? Because this is what other people do? Because someone told me to do this? I can’t think of anything else? I’m in a hurry? I don’t want to be different or unpopular?

And so on…until I’m confident I’m making a conscious choice.

We go about our days making millions of big and little decisions. But how often do we think – really think – about those decisions we make and why?

What about this idea of choosing leadership? I believe you either choose it or you don’t. Simple.

Practicing Leaders

I’ve met many who have chosen the path of leadership. I call these the Practicing Leaders, because, like doctors and their medicine, I believe what we do in leadership is both an art and a science and requires practice to get right – daily. I’ve met three types:

  1. The neo-leader becomes a new manager through a combination of hard work, potential and desire. They’re on the cusp between individual contributor and leader, but making daily choices that help them grow.
  2. The fit-leader has been doing it a while and remains passionate about leading. They’re comfortable in the role and know how to achieve success through others.
  3. The sensei-leader has been-there-done-that and feels continued growth comes from paying their lessons forward. Their passion is now centered on mentoring the next generation of leaders.

These individuals are far from perfect, but they’re living the life of a practicing leader because they know the positive impact they can have. They choose leadership.


And then we have the Leaders-in-Waiting. These are the individuals in the shadows, waiting to lead:

  1. The paused-leader somewhere along the way became disenchanted and chose to stop leading. They go through the motions, but have more to give; they just need to be re-ignited.
  2. The adrift-leader has a management job but loses their way because they were not prepared for the journey. They’re trying, but are just not sure how or where to lead, or lack the true desire to do so. They need a map, a compass and a guide.
  3. The undiscovered-leader has an unlit fire, and is unaware of their untapped potential. They may not have found the right opportunity or don’t yet even know their capability.

Choosing Leadership

Where do you find the Leader-in-Waiting? Anywhere and everywhere.

How do they transform into the Practicing Leader? That journey may be different for everyone, but my belief is it begins with a choice – a conscious choice. You have to ask yourself a simple question, no matter what type of leader you are:

Do I want to lead?

When the answer is yes, the next questions are about uncovering the obstacles – whether real or perceived – blocking your path:

  • Do I have confidence in my abilities?
  • Are my experience, knowledge and skills a match?
  • Do I fear acceptance of my peers or new team?
  • Am I worried about failing?
  • How do I find a mentor that can help me?
  • Is my personal brand and reputation helping or hindering me?
  • What opportunities can I seize?

While this list is not exhaustive, it is a good start. Find your personal obstacles and make a plan – a choice – for overcoming them.

I believe leadership is a choice. We choose to follow the path of leadership and, every day, we make choices that define the kind of leader we are and the legacy we will leave behind.

So, as we pick up speed in 2016, I ask, are you a Leader-in-Waiting? What leadership choices will you make this year? Who and how will you choose to lead?

Which of the “path blockers” have you come up against? Tell me about it in the comments!
Photo Credit: Morguefile

About The Author

Articles By alan-utley
Alan Utley is a Regional HR Director for one of the world’s largest vacation businesses. By night he dabbles in executive coaching, blogging, and public speaking and is proud to serve on the management faculty at a major university. In his own words, Alan is a “world-class wannabe expert in all things leadership and careers.” Connect with Alan at www.alanderekutley.com and on Twitter @AlanDUtley.

What People Are Saying

Mike Henry Sr.  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks Alan for a great post. Sometimes I even find I take the victim role on a situation-by-situation basis. I drop back to Leader-In-Waiting because I make the choice of whining about my situation or the circumstances I find myself in, rather than choosing to make a difference. Your post is a great reminder to all of us, we’re only one choice away. Thanks! Mike…

Alan Derek Utley  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Thanks, Mike. Yes, that happens to the best of us. And, sometimes our choices are UNconsciously made before we even know what’s happened. I find making “the right” choices isn’t always easy.

I appreciate your comment!

John Smith  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hi, Alan – thanks for another very interesting and useful post:)

I especially like your typology of leaders-in-waiting and the thoughtfulness it represents.

The most fascinating to me is the “paused leader”. This is a distinction that comes to mind less readily than the other two and may explain some phenomena that we are seeing in many organizations now, after a long period of uncertainty and abrupt change in the business landscape.

One thing I am picking up from your observations is a reminder of the real difference between knowing how to do something and actually doing it. Very key:)

Thanks again for another neat post.


Alan Derek Utley  |  26 Feb 2016  |  Reply

Hey, John. Very insightful takeaways. Yes, I think we are seeing a lot of this today. I am personally fascinated by the “paused leader”, who – as you say – knows what to do, but chooses not to. How to re-inspire that individual is an area of continued focus. Would love ideas.


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