First-time leaders often react to their new situations by asking, “What have I gotten myself into?” The good news is that that is exactly the right question. As Steven Covey put it, “Seek first to understand.”1 Seek to understand the context for your leadership and then make choices around where to focus with that context in mind. This will make things in the future much more straightforward.

For Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh, the most important decision is where to play. He learned that playing poker. He applied it at Zappos. In Hsieh’s words,

Through reading poker books and practicing by playing, I spent a lot of time learning about the best strategy to play once I was actually sitting down at a table. My big “ah-ha!” moment came when I finally learned that the game started even before I sat down in a seat.

In a poker room at a casino, there are usually many different choices of tables. Each table has different stakes, different players, and different dynamics that change as the players come and go, and as players get excited, upset, or tired.

I learned that the most important decision I could make was which table to sit at.2

We suggest thinking about this in three steps: What? So what? Now what?

1. Understand the business environment, organizational history, recent results (what)
2. Align around an interpretation of the situation assessment (so what)
3. Make clear choices around where to play and where not to play ...

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