A recent phone conversation with a mentee led me to discover the incredible impact of leaders creating moments for others. Our relationship began four years ago when he served as a new freshman in the West Point cadet company I oversaw. Now a senior, in our conversation a few weeks ago, he shared a story from his freshman year where he was struggling to collect all the items he needed for a unit inspection that was occurring, which he was already late for. He recalled being flustered and after frantically searching his entire room for the necessary items and not finding them, he hopefully looked for any support in the barracks hallway. I happen to be in the hallway at that moment, heading to observe the inspection myself, when I encountered the cadet. He was embarrassed but looked to me for what to do.
In his story, he shared how I calmed him down, stated that things like this happen, and how this is certainly not the end of the world or the end of today. I encouraged him to take a breath, return to his room and methodically go through his belongings to find the items; I would inform his cadet leaders he would be a little late.
Following the story, he disclosed that this incident is a memory he holds dear as it reflects the kind of impact he desires to have on others as a leader when he joins the Army as an officer in a few years – thoughtful, giving grace, and always showing concern for others regardless of circumstances. His inspection four years ago worked out but that didn’t even really matter during our call. What did matter, and what he still remembers, is how I made him feel – valued, cared for, and knowing everything was ok.
While I absolutely appreciate the story and the kind words my mentee shared about the impact I had on him, the thing about that moment together in the barracks that he shared is…I don’t remember it at all.
It’s not that I don’t care, or that he or the event was insignificant to me. But the incident remains an important crucible for this young man, not for me.
But hearing this story from this mentee taught me about the power of moments and how leaders should create meaningful moments for those they lead. Every experience or event is an opportunity to create a meaningful, impactful moment. As leaders, we must be thoughtful in creating moments that matter for others.
The Impact of Moments
Moments are meaningful events that help shape who we become, what we learn, what we are proud of, or clarify what is most important to us in life and work. We hold on to these moments in our memories as tangible reminders of significant transitions in our life. As Chip Heath and Dan Heath share in their book, The Power of Moments, moments help fill a pit in our life (a particular need) and/or create a peak (a remarkable, delightful, sometimes surprising experience of growth).
Within business or organizational settings, moments of significance don’t naturally occur. They must be created, and this is a leadership responsibility. Leaders creating moments for those in their teams helps others feel seen, valued, and like they belong. Moments are essential building blocks of team cohesion. They can be the tipping points to move a team member from mere compliance to commitment and alignment to the team. Ultimately, moments help improve performance – individually and collectively.
We must be intentional in seizing opportunities to create moments for others – capitalizing on ones provided us as well as putting in the work necessary to create them ourselves.
Considerations on Creating Moments
Moments can take many forms and can occur in nearly any setting. Leaders can create them in routine events like meetings. Or we can create novel experiences where they truly stand out.
For example, my favorite moments to create for others are promotion celebrations or award recognitions. In these, I’m able to tell a personal story about the person that is representative of them and reveals why they are deserving of the promotion or award. Moments like these are often in front of their closest friends and family. This is an easy way to make the celebrated person feel proud of themselves (as they should) and to help their family understand, and be incredibly proud of, the impact their person has at work.
While I believe there is an important role of leader authenticity in making the moment genuine, I think there are a few considerations that can broadly apply to all of us as we aim to leverage the power of moments.
- Be others focused: What in this moment would best support their growth or satisfaction within the team? Take a pause, be empathetic by appreciating the perspective of the other person, and be thoughtful in your response. Within the freshman year exchange with my mentee, I could have given a simple response of holding the cadet accountable for being unprepared or unorganized, which would have been justified. But I knew the cadet well, knew this was uncharacteristic of him, and helped him to take control of his situation (while offering a little help and grace).
- Emphasize long-term priorities: There may be immediate or short-term issues, but what will matter most for this person and our team well beyond this incident? Address current needs as necessary, but don’t compromise the impacts this will have on the other person, your relationship, and the team later down the road.
- Prepare for known opportunities to create moments: If we know we have an upcoming opportunity to create a moment, we must pour ourselves into it and prepare. For promotion or award celebrations I mentioned earlier, I ensure I make time to think through and prepare a thoughtful story, connect it to the current celebration, and communicate why it all matters for the people present. I also rehearse it to ensure it is well crafted and delivered. The same can apply for meetings, lectures, or other opportunities you may have to communicate and engage. For military leaders, think about weekly formations. Be purposeful in what you want to communicate, why, and prepare and rehearse those comments.
- Generate appreciation and pride: Recognize others in personal ways. Stories are an easy and meaningful way to do that; they make the recognition tangible and intimate. Broad, vague, and impersonal comments of appreciation are almost as bad as not sharing appreciation at all. Communicate the power of others’ efforts and work with detail and conviction.
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