by Andrea Charman

Moments of truth

This concept is most associated with Jan Carlson, a former CEO of SAS (Scandinavian Air Services), in the context of customer care. He took over leadership of the airline at a time of deep recession and identified that that the only differentiator he could call on to succeed was his people. He calculated that in a single trip, on average, a traveller would come into contact with a member of SAS staff five times. Each of these contact points was a defining moment – a ‘moment of truth’ – because it is in the moment and at the point of this ‘snapshot’ that a traveller decides whether to use the supplier services again. Carlson did all he could to develop staff management of these moments, with astonishing success.

The concept has, of course, been used since with supermarket check-out staff, call centres and frontline hotel staff, to name a few. A person can know his/her job to perfection, but what counts will be the critical interaction with the client, a stakeholder or another party.

Leadership moments

Understanding this concept of moments of truth can change everything. So, too, with leadership effectiveness: from the moment you arrive at your place of work, staff and workplace partners experience moments of truth. It is during these snapshot interactions – from meeting and greeting to dealing with problems in meetings and in one-to-one conversations – that your leadership effectiveness, your authenticity and credibility, are on the line.

The key question, therefore, is this: how do you handle such moments?

Points to consider include the following.

  1. How do you choose your attitude? Are you always open to approach (even if someone is annoying)?
  2. Are you unfailingly positive? (Who do you know who wants to ‘follow’ a negative leader?) Can you turn negatives into positives?
  3. Your personal package – appearance, facial expression, body language and stance, speech patterns, level of relaxation and energy management, ability to achieve rapport, ‘personal touch’ – how do you stack up? Which two or three words would others select to sum you up?
  4. Do you have the ability to proactively listen and then appropriately restate a problem or a challenge presented in any given interaction?
  5. Reversal – can you turn a problem on its head as a way of encouraging more creative solution seeking? For example, when a member of your team brings a problem that seems to be intractable, a response that asks ‘Let’s just consider what would happen if we do nothing?’ serves as a simple example of the use of reversal.
  6. Are you able to offer your full attention at a critical moment so that the ‘noise’ in your head is pushed aside? Often called ‘clearing the space’, this is a technique of removing all that’s going on in your head at any given critical moment so that you choose an optimum level of mental and emotional focus on the task in hand. One simple way among many to do this is using your peripheral vision (See NLP – Universal perspective, also explained in the Violence and Aggression topic.)
  7. Simplicity – do you have the ability to strip away the layers of complexity that can sometimes get in the way of a timely and effective response?

Leadership is experienced in the moment. It is the moment that counts.

Handling these moments of truth effectively is closely associated with emotional management. The emotionally-intelligent leader will play his/her best shot, using the most appropriate golf club. Is this the moment to be authoritarian – perhaps almost brutally so – or is this the time to listen, to reward, to discuss and so on?

Should the shot land slightly off target, practical intuition may provide the solution. This is what Ralph Waldo Emerson called ‘the inner self’s wisdom’; it’s the practice of feeling out a problem, trusting gut feeling and emotional intelligence.

Just as physical fitness builds strength, stamina and bodily flexibility, so emotional fitness (see EQ in leaders) builds corresponding flexibility, believability and resilience. It enables a leader to handle pressures with mental and emotional adaptability. The result is a healthy environment that builds trust and promotes enthusiasm. The reason for this is that it is through emotional fitness that we demonstrate our core personal values and the drivers behind them. Those we lead experience a level of authenticity that in turn promotes a sense of realness, integrity, enhanced trust and respect.