Defining Moments in Leadership

My colleagues and I recently attended a local breakfast meeting with Tulsa’s Lead Change Group. We focus on leadership virtually every day at Hogan, but stepping away from our desks and engaging in a community discussion about leadership proved to be both interesting and insightful. Plus, the bagels and coffee helped get the early morning off to a great start.

The Lead Change Group meets every other month, and usually involves a panel discussion about a specific topic. This particular meeting focused on defining moments in leadership. Four local leaders discussed defining moments that changed how they lead.

Two of the panelists’ stories involved a personal decision to leave an organization to focus on family. The remaining panelists described similar situations – a decision to stay or leave an organization going through considerable change during a tumultuous economic time. One panelist decided that if half of his entire department was going to be reorganized, he would voluntarily join them as he believed the departmental cuts were unnecessary and unfairly treated the staff. Conversely, the last panelist faced the same defining moment but decided to stay. Although he had the opportunity to focus on his own projects and commitments to the community, he felt that his commitment to lead others and standing by his staff was more important. He stayed to lead those who relied on him.

Each of the panelists’ defining decisions emphasized the importance of people. Through their defining moments, the panelists learned that building and maintaining relationships rather than emphasizing the bottom line proved to not only be more rewarding, but also a valuable lesson that reshaped their leadership style.

Interestingly, this meeting occurred the same week Steve Jobs had an important defining moment. According to an article at The Daily Beast, Jobs wrote a letter to Apple’s board and explained, “I have always said if there ever came a day when I could no longer meet my duties and expectations as Apple’s CEO, I would be the first to let you know. Unfortunately, that day has come.”

Jobs decision to step down indefinitely most likely included many compounding factors, not just his health. One could argue that Jobs is putting both Apple and its people ahead of his desire to be in charge. His admirable decision to allow Tim Cook to take over CEO role begs important questions. Do successful leaders choose people over their companies’ success? Is it the other way around, company over people? Is it possible to keep both in mind and successfully lead?