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Opinion: 'Think more strategically, act more decisively,' CEO says

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The following are excerpts from a conversation between businessman Nick Tasler and Jeff Prouty at The Prouty Project. It’s part of an occasional opinion series on BringMeTheNews, in partnership with Prouty, featuring insights from business leaders.

Prouty recently caught up with Tasler, the CEO and Founder of Decision Pulse, a behavior change company specializing in helping teams think more strategically and act more decisively. Tasler recently released his second book, “Why Quitters Win: Decide to be Excellent,” and is now traveling the country sharing his wisdom.

Prouty: After graduating from the University of Iowa, talk a little about your experience.

Tasler: At Iowa, I realized I wanted to continue studying people in their "natural habitats" to really get to the bottom of why people make the choices they do. The question was whether I wanted to do that in the world of academia or the world of work? Ultimately, I decided that I wanted to do more than just study people. I wanted to study them while working right alongside them so I can simultaneously help them. From there my thought was: Why help one person when you can help hundreds or thousands at a time within an organization ... and then heck, why stop at just one organization? Why not do work with lots of people in lots of organizations? So management consulting all of the sudden seemed like the best option. So, I opted to move to Chicago and accept the job at Andersen.

Prouty: How did you decide you wanted to start your own business — your “entrepreneurial seizure,” so to speak?

Tasler: A lifetime of pathological independence. I wanted to be free to pursue the things that interested me most and in this case that meant focusing full time on understanding why people make the decisions they do and how they can do it better. To my knowledge no employer was doing that, so if that’s really what I wanted to do, I had no choice but to do it myself.

Prouty: What did you learn from your Mom?

Tasler: Willpower and independence. A great example was when she was nine months pregnant with my older sister – her first baby – in the middle of August, she refused to stay home when my dad went out with a crew to “walk beans” in my grandpa’s bean field. There she was out there whacking at weeds with a corn-knife in sweltering heat ready to burst at the seams any minute. My dad asked, “Why are you doing this?” My mom answered, “I’m just fine. I can do it. You just worry about yourself.” I saw some version of that scene play out every day for the first 17 years of my life. It made an impact.

Prouty: What did you learn from your Dad?

Tasler: How to let things go and how to go after what you want. Basically you shouldn’t ever let somebody else put a limit on how much you can enjoy your life. If you want something, figure out a way to go get it and don’t forget to have some fun along the way.

Prouty: What are you trying to teach/model for your kids?

Tasler: I would rather have my three sons grow up to be great philosophers than great scientists, great athletes, or great businessmen. So, I try to teach them self-discipline, compassion, and to think for themselves. Grades are important; winning in sports is fun; and you need to obey adults. But, don’t ever lose sight of the big, big picture.

Prouty: Any “words of wisdom” re: balancing “entrepreneurship” with “fatherhood?”

Tasler: One thing at a time. If you’re working then work. If you’re being daddy, then be daddy.

Trying to check your email or take a phone call while simultaneously “spending time with your kids” will make you ineffective in both endeavors. Even as babies, they know when you aren’t paying attention. It’s better to be out of sight completely than to be physically there, and then ignore them.

Prouty: You are a young author, having written two (I think) books already, what’s next?

Tasler: You mean aside from world domination? Building a business that can run largely without my day-to-day involvement. There will be another book down the road but right now we’ve tapped into an unmet need for teaching leaders and teams how to respond faster to complexity and change by being more strategic and decisive. Until we’ve done all we can do there, I’m not letting myself think too much about what’s next.

Prouty: Your “vision” for the next 20 years?

Tasler: I’m doing almost exactly what I want to do in my retirement right now. So what I see in 20 years is doing pretty much the same thing — writing books and articles and developing newer, better ways to help people make better decisions. In 20 years, hopefully we’ll just be doing that better and for more people.

Prouty: “Decision wisdom” for the leaders among our readers?

Tasler: The purpose of a decision is not to select the perfect option. The purpose of a decision is to move you to the next decision. A leader’s most important job is to make “right vs. right” decisions even when you don’t have all the information and even where this is no single right answer. Great leaders come in all shapes, sizes, races, and personalities. But the one thing they all have in common is that they are willing to make a decision when others won’t.

Prouty: One big goal you’d like to achieve in 2014?

Tasler: I’m a big nerd and few things excite me more than making new research discoveries. So I’d love to reach 500,000 decisions in our Decision Database this year. I’d be like a kid in candy store with all that new data.

Prouty: Something you’d like to do for fun in 2014?

Tasler: I really want to get my 5- and 7-year-old sons on a surfboard this year!

Jeff Prouty founded the Prouty Project in 1987 after seven years with PricewaterhouseCoopers in Minneapolis and New York City. He specializes in working with senior management teams and boards of directors on strategic planning and team issues.

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