As a leader, your team looks to you to set the rules. They turn to you for advice — for your thoughts on how to behave. Which is why the way you communicate is so important. If you aren’t clear on your goals, your intentions or values, you run the risk of saying the wrong thing and setting your team up to fail.

The power of choice is one of the greatest gifts we are given. In fact, it is so important that the privilege of choice is removed from prison inmates as a form of punishment. Although we make many choices every hour of the day, we rarely make neutral choices. Each choice has a positive or negative consequence for us at some level.

Our attitude toward life is the most important choice we make. Let’s look at why such a simple choice – embracing a positive or negative attitude – is more challenging that it appears for many people. The bottom line is that we often forget that we have the power to choose. We relinquish it subconsciously, because we make thousands of decisions daily – about 95% of them are subconscious.

Just think of the last time you were in deep thought about your plans for the evening while driving home from work. As you pull into your driveway you wonder to yourself, “How did I get home?” The car seemed to practically drive itself home. Driving is a relatively complex task, requiring many choices along the way – turn right, turn left, slow down, stop and change lanes. Still, driving home can be successfully performed almost subconsciously.

Now, consider the multitude of much smaller choices we make each day that we don’t really think about: waking up, brushing our teeth, saying “good morning” to a colleague, eating our lunch, performing a repetitive job duty and so on. Subconscious actions are useful most of the time, but we must also consciously choose our attitude to control our reactions.

Our ability to choose is a gift, but it is also a responsibility. No matter what today’s ‘it’s not my fault’ culture encourages, we are all ultimately responsible for our own choices. In fact, we like to write the word “responsibility” as response – ability. As humans, we have the unique ability to respond. It is a choice we make, although many times an instantaneous or subconscious choice.

Here’s a scenario repeated daily. Family dinners are important at the Smith house. Jim and Jane Smith and their two children (Jonnie, age 3 and Janie, age 4) have just seated themselves at the table. Before the first bite of dinner is enjoyed, Jonnie spills his milk and it goes everywhere.

A reaction to this event: “Not again, Jonnie! Every time we eat, this happens. Think, son, think! Do you want to eat in your room from now on?”

A response to this event: “Uh Oh, Jonnie. Let’s get a sponge and clean this up so you can eat your dinner.”

When you react, you make a purely emotional and subconscious decision. Often, because of how your experiences and prior choices have programmed your subconscious mind, your reactions do not help you achieve the best results.

On the other hand, when you respond to a situation, you make a constructive and conscious decision. That’s why there are Emergency Response Teams and not Emergency Reaction Teams:

  • When you simply react, your emotional instinct is in control, with little thought of the long-range consequences.
  • When you respond, your brain is fully engaged, and your self-awareness is high. You have the long-term consequences in mind.

We all experience plenty of negative situations and people. The key is to be prepared to consciously respond to these negative inputs. Choosing to respond instead of reacting helps us to demonstrate reliable reactions with increases predictability for others and reduces their stress when they interact with us.


  • Lee J. Colan, Ph.D.

    Executive Advisor and Leadership Consultant

    Lee J. Colan, Ph.D. is a rare combination of a highly-trained business consultant and coach to leading organizations, prolific author and engaging presenter of ideas. Lee has authored 15 popular books that have been translated into 10 languages, including the bestselling Engaging the Hearts and Minds of All Your Employees. He has also created over 100 practical models and products that equip and inspire leaders at every level. Learn more and access free tools at