Defining Moments

We have all had defining moments in our life whether we realize it or not. I am talking about an event or instance which determines ones future path.

I think my first real defining moment in my life was my parent’s divorce when I was ten years old. My mom had to relocate us to a new town, and I did not adjust well at all. We were living in a small apartment, money was extremely tight, and I was on a pathway to trouble. I was getting into fights, shop lifting, and just angry. Within a year or so, I became a Christian through a series of events, and that path was redirected. My circumstances did not change, but my response to them sure did!

My second real defining moment came at the age of 28. My wife was diagnosed with cancer. We had a two year old son at the time, and I didn’t know how all that was going to turn out. She went through months of chemo treatments and came out ok, but at the time, there were no guarantees. That experience really shaped the kind of future husband and father I would strive to be.

You know, those defining moments also take place in the work environment too.

I recall my first assignment as GM in a box plant, after several years in the mill system. I came to a plant with no box plant experience, and the plant was a train wreck in every aspect. The majority of the workforce was just disengaged and didn’t seem to care. I had no credibility, no trust, and seemingly no way to turn that thing around. I had to do something to change the engagement level, or we would eventually be closed.

Within a month, I had my opportunity. The fire alarm went off one morning at the plant. I was actually in the facility sorting through some returned boxes (we had a lot of that), and I made my way toward the converting department and saw the smoke. The majority of folks were quickly getting out of the facility while I made my way past them toward the source of the smoke. We had a couple of employees trying to use fire extinguishers to put out what appeared to be a fairly small issue near the scrap belt of a machine. They weren’t getting close enough to have success. With excessive dust, trim, and oil on the floor (yep it was a mess) it was going to get worse and that trim pipe was right there (trim pipe, cyclone, roof, and entire plant – you see what I was thinking). I also realized this was a chance to have defining moment in that facility.

I locked the machine out, got the extinguisher and a broom, and went to work. The two other folks were there to assist, but it was essential that I take care of it (trust me it was done safely). After about 20 minutes everything was out, cleaned up, cyclone checked out, and all clear sign given. I looked like I had been through a fight. Dripping wet, nasty from being on the floor pulling that scrap from underneath the belt, and covered with dust and grit. I passed by every employee as they came back in the plant that morning.

Now, I wasn’t the most competent person to do the job that morning. We had several other folks that were trained and could have done that job better than me. After spending five years in a mill, I had seen fires much worse, but that’s not the point. I needed those folks to start caring about the plant as much as I did. You know, from that day on things started to turn. It took some time, but that day was the beginning of a turnaround. It was the defining moment we needed.

Whether you lead a team of five or five hundred, there will be times that you will also need to have defining moments. Some of these will come unexpectedly and some you will need to orchestrate. You will need these defining moments to change a direction, emphasize a point, drill home a key value/commitment, or just get people to care. In any case, keep the following in mind as a leader.

1. Recognize the opportunity. These are moments of high influence. Take advantage of them. Be ready at all times. Know your convictions and stick to them in defining times.
2. Respond to more than just solving the problem. Take advantage of the moment and send a message! Don’t just solve the problem.
3. Re-emphasize what’s important. Don’t confuse folks. Stick to the core values, focus areas, and key needs. Keep the focus narrow and drive it home. Be impactful in the moment.

Use these defining moments to set the tone, gain credibility, gain trust, or influence your followers in a manner that drives the change needed.

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