The Importance of Values - Part 3 of 4

How defining moments define leadership

I finished my last post saying if you believe values represent a static state, please think again. Values are refreshed and created by the actions of everyone going about their daily work and communicating by all the means available.

In this article I want to discuss the topic of defining moments. Again my focus is on organisations and leadership, but the discussion is relevant to all those interested in the topic.

The strength of our values must be tested and will be tested. Moments come along which will test us and whether we like it or not will establish our values in the eyes of others. And it’s not easy, our values can clash with each other and we find we have to confront two mutually exclusive decisions either one of which could be justified as the right thing to do. And whichever decision we select, we end up feeling bad.

Imagine you are in charge of Human resources for an organisation of about 29,000 employees. You sit on the executive board and together you have masterminded a strategic reorganisation which will result in job cuts. Some 400 managers will be affected, either being repositioned or laid off. Your responsibility is to execute the downsizing.

Whatever you decide to do, you will feel that you have let one side down

The plan is in place and the managers affected are to be met individually in five days when the executive have worked out the communications plan. The executive release that announcement, but agree to keep all details confidential for the next five days.

On hearing the announcement one of the managers asks to be speak with you in confidence. You have known each other for several years and trust one another because of having worked closely on various projects.

In the meeting your colleague recognises the need for confidentiality, but makes strong personal arguments why he needs to know one way or the other before the five day period. His argument is persuasive as with the knowledge he has an opportunity to safeguard his family’s future but that opportunity would not exist in five days time.

You are known to be helpful, supportive and anti bureaucratic in solving people’s issues. You are trusted by employees and the executive alike. So there is a clash between the care you show individuals and the loyalty to the executive and others. Whatever you decide to do, you will feel that you have let one side down. This clashing of values is a key process in establishing values and behaving consistently.

This is an example of a defining moment. Have you experienced similar situations?


Defining moments are when you have to make a good versus good decision and it will reveal, test, shape or destroy the way people see you. It is painful making these choices, because you cannot have just one value. You cannot be supportive all the time; you cannot be honest all the time. Think about it. It’s not possible. If you want to learn more about defining moments then Joe Badarracco has given much time to the topic.

In my next post I will look at the topic of consistency and the implications for leadership.

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