Choices Create Legacy

by Alli Polin on November 22, 2013

As a leader, do you see a person or an object in your way?

I was stomping around super angry that our house was a mess this past weekend.  Kids toys were scattered everywhere, like an explosion of Matchbox cars, Monster High dolls, crafts and board games. I was ranting about our family philosophy (OK, my philosophy) that every time we take out a toy we clean it up before we take out the next one. My son and daughter jumped up and said they’d clean their rooms once they realized I might actually grab the trashcan any moment.

They came out a short while later, feeling good, and invited me to come for an inspection.  My expectations were low and I was still fuming as I made the walk down the hall.

TRUTH:  The floor was clear and the mess was now in piles, hidden in closets and under the bed.
CHOICE A: Rant and rave that they did a terrible job and demand that they actually clean.
CHOICE B: Appreciate their effort and acknowledge that they tried.
CHOICE C: Acknowledge their effort and suggest that we finish up together.
CHOICE D: Let it go.

I’ve run into similar situations with my teams.  They asked if they could run with a new idea and a few days later I’m excitedly invited into a team meeting.

TRUTH: I am quickly pelted with a few half-baked approaches with great enthusiasm but no organization or real preparation.
CHOICE A: Get up and ask them to start again and build a more thoughtful approach.
CHOICE B: Hop up to the whiteboard to focus their energy and extract meaning from chaos.
CHOICE C: Acknowledge their enthusiasm, get curious and leave them with some powerful questions.
CHOICE D: Let it go.

What’s the leader’s role?  Which choice is the right one?  Will you or I make it at the right time?  

Our choices tell a story and when put together, create our legacy. (Click to Tweet)

There are a lot of opinions of a manager vs a leader and I’m going to suggest that rarely is someone all or nothing.  The manager gives direction, and the leader uplifts and inspires others to get it done.  Ummm… Leaders point people in the right direction too and I’ve worked with some incredibly inspiring managers.  Every day, each one of us has choices about how we show up in our family, at work, in our volunteer organizations and in our relationships.

  • Critical?
  • Supportive?
  • Demanding?
  • Encouraging?
  • Eye-rolling?
  • Appreciating?
  • Telling?
  • Asking?

What’s interesting is that it’s not only what you do that matters, but also how you see others in the process.  Are they an object in your way or are they a person, another human being, doing their best?  No matter what you choose, your behavior is colored with how you see them and hold them in your heart.  We’ve all spoken kind words when angry and their impact is angry.  We’ve also spoken harsh words and given direct feedback with care and love and that’s how they are received.   People will do what they do – you choose your way of being in the relationship.

Here’s the truth:  The heart of leadership is about people and relationships – not spreadsheets, PowerPoint decks or tidy rooms.

Make the Leap Action:  Before you act, or over-react… take a beat and a breath as you consider how you want to show up and the impact you want to have not only on the current circumstance but also on the people.  You will be remembered for what you do and say but you can never forget that every action is a choice.

What do you choose?  What’s your leadership story?  Your legacy?

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Craig Slater November 22, 2013 at 5:50 am

Powerful thoughts! Thanks for pointing out that we always have choices.


Alli Polin November 22, 2013 at 5:54 am

Thanks so much for your feedback, Craig! Much appreciated!


Jon Mertz November 22, 2013 at 7:07 am

Great points, Alli. Not only is it a choice in our story but it is how we use empathy in it. Seeing others as human beings mean we need to connect with them at a different level, a deeper understanding. Within our leadership and life story, empathy is another choice we need to embrace and make to really write a meaningful story. Excellent thoughts again, Alli! Jon


Alli Polin November 23, 2013 at 9:02 am

Empathy is critical – it allows us to get out of our me-me-me centric world and see that everyone has their own strengths and challenges and to accept them for who they are. We can’t do that when we’re looking down on them. Empathy is a leadership competency that’s often overlooked. Maybe because for some it’s too soft? Not sure.

Thanks for forwarding the conversation. Appreciate your insights a ton, Jon!


Tom Rhodes November 22, 2013 at 7:16 am

Alli a powerful message for sure. Your weekend rant – totally been in that same place. I think it’s important to know that you can chose to change your legacy but how you handle bad choices. All of it is part of your story in the end.


Alli Polin November 23, 2013 at 8:52 am

Glad to know I’m not the only parent that drives their kids bonkers trying to get them to clean up! If only you could see my house today – disaster! Today was one of those times I decided to let it go. They had fun with friends and enjoyed every moment. They can clean it up tomorrow 🙂

Bad choices, good choices … sometimes it’s not clear which one we’re actually making. Even bad ones can take us good places if we learn from the experience and use our new-found knowledge in the future.

Thanks, Tom!


Joy Guthrie November 22, 2013 at 9:28 am

Excellent post, Alli. It always is and ever was all about our choices and how we choose to see things. Love the clear cut examples you provide and how those choices likely yield different outcomes not only in the product; but, in the feelings between the people involved too. Well done!


Alli Polin November 23, 2013 at 8:54 am

Thanks, Joy! When we try to take people out of the equation in our decision making we miss the mark. I know many times I’ve been told to “leave feelings out of my decision.” This goes beyond feelings to recognize another human being. Had transformed the way I’ve looked at choice.


Carl November 22, 2013 at 10:15 am

Wonderful post Alli, great insights – it resonated with my early years when I saw things being done ‘not my way’ – I really had to take time to see that in some cases it doesn’t have to be done ‘my way’ – it just needs to get done and it’s important for the development of the team that they see their efforts through. If we are always stepping in, then we short circuit their growth as leaders.

Best regards on your work,


Alli Polin November 23, 2013 at 8:56 am

Wow, Carl! You’re right! It’s about how we react when things are not done our way that is really telling. Letting go and letting people run and do it their way is one of the toughest things new leaders learn (and some never learn!) You raise a lot of great points that is a stumbling block for so many.

Thank you for sharing your insights!


Chantal Bechervaise November 22, 2013 at 8:57 pm

It’s like you are inside my head Alli 🙂 – I have experienced the exact same thing with my daughter. I had her read this post too and she started laughing. Thanks for making me approach it from a different perspective. Will have to keep that in mind next time. Thankfully there is always room for improvement. 🙂


Alli Polin November 23, 2013 at 8:59 am

I’m so touched, Chantal and I’m soooo with you – there is always room for improvement. I know I’m so quick to look at others and can see what they can do better but I also need to look in the mirror and see that there are many things I can choose to change too. Luckily, my kids always have suggestions for me 😉

Appreciate you!


LaRae Quy November 23, 2013 at 3:55 pm

I loved this post, Alli. You make a great point about how important our choices are when dealing with situations and people. I’ve been the one to rant when something wasn’t done correctly or thoroughly…but when I thought about my reaction, it was usually because I expect perfection from myself and foist those expectations upon others…it was about ME – not THEM!


Alli Polin November 25, 2013 at 8:20 am


I’ve been there and luckily my personal light-bulb has finally gone on shining the light on my drive for perfection. My choices and reactions were very much me-focused when when my reactions only highlighted what was going wrong instead of helping things to go right.

Always appreciate your insights LaRae and greatly appreciate that you share them here!


karin hurt November 25, 2013 at 7:53 pm

With kids sometime I go the “let it go route” because the relationship is so long term and there is much at stake for over-reacting (in full disclosure, my husband does not always agree with this). With kids and with teams, the bigger deal is inspiring them toward possible… magic… what they COULD be… with my son I never back down on music practice when frustration leads to giving up… same with teams…. leadership gets bigger around the road blocks.


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