Defining Moment, def,
An event that typifies or determines all subsequent related occurrences.
It was a lightning bolt 20 years ago, yet I remember it clearly.
With one sentence I learned the meaning of accountability. It was an attitude adjustment that changed who I am and how I lead.
It was a defining moment.
People who experienced a defining moment often describe how it changed the arc of their careers, or how they instantly gained knowledge that would have taken them years to achieve.
Here’s what I learned.
When I was in my first operational role I was responsible for 50 people. We had excellent production output, but the worst safety results compared to the other units.
One day I met for a results review with Joe, the Operations Manager. He asked why my safety results were so poor. I carefully explained that ”accidents happen” and I didn't know why people kept getting hurt. As far as I was concerned, no one was to blame.
Joe thought differently and said, “Since you can't manage safety, I am going to stop all personnel promotions in your operations.”
I was horrified and embarrassed. I was responsible and I had let my people down. Now they wouldn’t get promoted because of my failure as their manager.
In the instant following Joe's directive, I became accountable.
I understood immediately what I needed to do to manage safety. I took a deep breath, and asked Joe for one chance to make it right.
I told him that I would change the results in three months, and if they didn't improve, I would personally halt all promotions. Joe agreed. Three months later we made a huge improvement in safety, and eventually became the safest production unit.
That was the best minute of my career.
Joe’s intervention changed the way I managed forever. And the moment I acknowledged that safety was MY responsibility, and the failure was MY fault, my operations became safer, and all future operations would become safer too.
Here's what makes a defining moment work
Intervene when there’s a fundamental disconnect in values.
You teach character when you correct a significant disconnect in values or responsibilities. Poor leadership judgement MUST be confronted.
The power is in the moment. The impact is lost if you wait a day or longer. Don’t wait even if there are other people in the room.
A defining moment is a critical, sometimes once-in-a-career intervention. Don’t abuse it.
Be brief, clear and authoritative.
It’s a correction. It's not a lecture, a conversation, or an apology. You don’t have to raise your voice or be angry, but you have to be firm.
There are few tools that can accelerate growth like a defining moment. Use it wisely and you will make a powerful and lasting change on the people you coach.
It will be the best minute of their career.
Learn more about leadership with these posts:
What Bloggers can Teach Your CEO about Trust
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The One Dangerous Thing Every Leader Should Do
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Photo/cause time is slipping away by Pranav Prakash, on Flickr