Choose First, Then Decide

Published: April 19, 2022

Leaders are faced with both choices and decisions when building, strengthening, or repairing a workplace culture. Despite their interchangeability in casual conversation, choosing and deciding are not the same. Choice is a selection while deciding is an act of elimination. We choose a culture that embraces certain principles. Deciding, on the other hand, resolves conflict between options. The original Latin word for ‘decide’ is decidere, which means ‘to cut off.’ When we decide, we are slicing off less desirable alternatives. We are establishing a code of conduct by letting employees know what behaviors are not tolerated.

The classic example is the ‘No @$$holes Rule.’ Every industry is guilty of turning a blind eye to the behavior of a jerk if they are super-productive. Businesses are willing to sacrifice morale for profit. But eventually, the erosion of culture makes this decision self-destructive. Word on the street is powerful and once it becomes public knowledge that ‘@$$holes’ are tolerated, both recruitment and retention suffer. We choose to enable toxic conduct by deciding which personality and character shapes our team.

Choose first and decide second. Select the character of your culture with philosophical intention. That is your team’s aspiration. Aspirations are realized by a consistent succession of decisions. If transparency is your aspiration, you have a decision to make about talking points when faced with communicating a controversial message. If inclusiveness is your goal, you must decide who gets a voice and who doesn’t. If your culture values innovation, decisiveness about contributions to team trust will shape the foundation supporting creativity.

In the end, the credibility of any choice will be strengthened or weakened by the actions that follow your decisions. Behavior speaks louder than the words of the mission statement framed on the conference room wall. Each day arrives with a new opportunity to show your teammates – and the wider world – how well your words and behavior match.  

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.