Public officials often become best known for their response to a particular crisis or event. Somehow their response to an issue or circumstance becomes an indelible part of their public legacy. For John F. Kennedy it was his response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. The destruction of the World Trade Center gave Rudy Giulliani the opportunity to become “America’s Mayor” as he responded to the events of 9/11. And while responding to such visible and dramatic crises such as these may create a public legacy, such defining moments are not the domain of President’s and politicians alone. Every would-be leader faces defining moments regularly and is presented the opportunity to having an enduring impact on the lives of those around them. The real challenge is to recognize such moments for what they are.
These defining moments, regrettably, have a way of getting lost in what seems like the routine of our lives. Being absorbed in the tactical roles of our lives we fail to see the strategic impact of our behavior, decisions, and demeanor. We wake to a speed of life and anxiety that we’ve come to accept as normal. We must get busy “doing” and reacting. In the fury and noise of our routine we do not see the strategic opportunities presented to us. An employee has a personal problem affecting his or her performance and we react with a manager’s response citing policy and performance demands rather than investing a bit more time, energy, and compassion in the individual which might well return them to the point of productivity and create a deeper sense of corporate loyalty. A child faces a disappointment or setback and as parents we resort, in our fatigue and frustration, to a message of “do better” or “chin up,” rather than investing the time and energy to address the cause of their circumstances rather than the symptoms. This is not leadership.
Leadership is no easy thing. Books and popular culture often glorify the successful public response of a given individual to a set of circumstances. Yet they fail to recognize the dozens of things “every day” leaders must do to be effective. Genuine leadership recognizes both the defining moments of “routine” decisions. Hiring. Firing. Managing conflict. Preparing. Responding to a client complaint. Seeing the unspoken pain in a child, friend, or employee’s eyes when others do not. Finding opportunity when no one else does. These are the daily defining moments for leaders. To recognize the opportunity and privilege of such apparent burdens is difficult. And responding appropriately is an imperfect science. Yes, leadership may require us to do things we would prefer not to do, like say “no” to a client’s request, disappoint a child, or enforce a policy that makes us seem disingenuous. Yet those too are defining moments.
The genuine leader seizes the defining moments of routine as well as crisis. He or she recognizes taking on such a role makes one the “lightening rod” of a given circumstance. In the mundane and routines of work, parenting, community service, as well in moments of great crisis, genuine leaders are aware of the moment. They seize the opportunity others miss and in doing so have the opportunity to make a dramatic difference in their family, community and business. So take a moment to consider what are the defining moments you will face in your life today. Consider how you will respond. To do so is to write your own indelible legacy in the lives of others.
Keep the Faith.