What Actually Defines Us

It’s not the difficult decisions that define me, it’s the decisions I make that affect others.

Leaders understand their burden well: If I fail, so do the people around me. Those who merely manage other people are looking at “I” and not “we.” Leaders are looking for the “we”—their looking at “you.”

Leading means understanding the strengths and weaknesses of those around you: playing to their strengths and strengthening their weaknesses. To make that concrete: it often means making difficult decisions with them. When faced with a problem, leaders look beyond the people involved and consider how their decision will alter the lives of everyone. And by everyone, I mean everyone: the team, the department, the company, the customers, and the world. What affect will this decision have on all of us?

Deciding that more than temporary failure is not an option leads to another decision. But first some background.

Fearing failure is natural; it’s unnatural to prevent it. Fight or flight instincts only kick in when we’re afraid. Yet it’s in the moments of fearlessness that we make the best, rationale decisions, for everyone. This means that we must do more than be calm. We must do more than resist the urge to be reactive. We must be proactive when things seem calm. Doing so can prevent the next emergency.

When we look at things this way, we naturally find the fault in our system. And that leads to our second decision: Fixing the soon-to-be brokenness.

Something is broken. Accept it, get over it, and do something about it. Find the broken thing and work on it. Work with those involved to make the difficult decisions. There is little of higher value during this than clarity.

It may take an idea for you to see clearly, or it may take pain. But the most shocking thing of all is that you soon discover your own mistakes. You find out what lies you’ve been telling yourself and what lies others have told themselves. Suddenly, the situation is both overwhelming and satisfying, because you finally get it. You find out what needs to change and suddenly realize how to change it. It’s in these moments that you learn who you are.

People everyday see what type of person you are. And what you do for other people, especially when it’s difficult, is what defines you.

What do you think defines someone? How do you make decisions with other people?

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