The Power of Choice

This article was originally published in Current Connections Fall 2019 issue.

A few weeks ago, I was signing in to the PMI Symposium in Sioux Falls. Glancing at the registration table, I noticed there was another nametag that had the rare Dutch name of Ten Haken. The nametag bore the prestigious “Speaker” ribbon, and I knew that it belonged to Sioux Falls Mayor Paul Ten Haken. I was anticipating his keynote address, and I also knew that the inevitable “Are you related to Paul?” questions were coming.

Mayor Ten Haken and I are, in fact, second cousins. I doubt he is frequently asked if he is related to me, and yet we are ultimately still family. While it’s fun for me to share a surname with someone of local notoriety, it makes me wonder what it is like for others who may not be as happy about their familial connections.

In a perfect world, you would think one would get to choose everything – your family, friends, project teams, etc. But it’s not a perfect world, so what happens when you don’t get to choose? It brings to mind the quote from Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird: “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ‘em or not, and it makes you look silly when you don’t.”

What if, for example, your project lands a partner you don’t really want, or you’re stuck with someone you don’t see eye-to-eye with? While you always want to be as intentional as possible when choosing a project team, sometimes the choices belong to someone else. You may feel like you have no choice – but that’s exactly what you have: the choice to choose how to proceed. Since you have to make choices, make good ones.

Choices You Can Make When It Feels Like You Have No Choice

  • Choose to establish Mission Clarity by clearly articulating the What and Why. If you aren’t all on the same page, how can you move forward smoothly? Make sure everyone knows exactly what is to be achieved and why it is important.
  • Choose to be “all in” and give the project the best of yourself. Take the time to bring the best version of yourself to your commitments. Ask yourself how you can make changes in your life that have a positive ripple effect.
  • Choose to over communicate with team members. Invest your time in telling them exactly what is expected, and model that work ethic and attention to detail for them.
  • Choose to expect the best of others. People often live up to the expectations placed on them. Instill confidence in your team by encouraging them and giving them opportunities to make their own choices.

Life hands you a set of variables, but you get to choose how you react and what kind of energy you bring to the table. Giving the best of yourself is challenging, but it reaps the biggest rewards. Make the choice that leads to success for your team and the larger good.

Jake Ten Haken, Director of Integrated Services


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