(Excerpted from 7 Moments… that Define Excellent Leaders)

The building blocks of our excellence are moments… literally. Defining moments, that is.

Nobel Prize winning scientist Daniel Kahneman, asserts that we experience thousands of individual moments every waking day. These “moments” last only a few seconds. If you consider your strongest memories, positive or negative, you’ll notice the imagery in your mind is actually defined by your recollection of a precise point in time.

In some cases, a single encounter can change your life forever. Think of your own defining moments. Are they literally moments?

Defining moments might be positive or negative, but either way, we are never the same after experiencing one. These moments shape who we are and who we will become. As Mufasa, the Lion King himself, said to his son, Simba, from the heavens, “You are more than you have become.” These few words created a positive defining moment for Simba to start acting like the king he was.

Fantasy or reality, it works the same. So let’s look at reality.

We might be defined by a word of encouragement from a colleague or, just as likely, from a word of discouragement. We might be defined by a moment of glorious victory or one of horrendous failure. We might also be defined by a moment of perfect intuition or one where our best judgment was ultimately found faulty. Or perhaps, the moment we commit ourselves to a goal or the moment we decide to go another direction.

We could also be defined by the moment when we decide to make our family’s experience different than the one we grew up with or the moment we experience a positive example and decide to model it. Or we may be defined by the moment a boss lets us know he believes in us or even the moment of honest self-reflection that triggers us to change.

Defining moments, indirectly or directly, create a new direction or perspective for us. Consider runner Georgene Johnson. She got to the starting line of a weekend race 15 minutes early. It was a mistake in timing that became a defining moment in her life.

The 42-year-old secretary had registered to run in a 10 kilometer/ 6.2 mile race that Sunday. The race started at 8:45 a.m. There was also a marathon scheduled to begin 15 minutes earlier. Both races used the same starting line.

Georgene took off at the sound of the starting gun. Four miles down the road, as the race route took the runners out of downtown and into residential areas, Johnson said she experienced a sick feeling that she was possibly in the wrong race. A few minutes later, another runner confirmed her suspicions.

Instead of stopping and retracing her steps, she joined about 4,000 runners taking part in the Revco-Cleveland Marathon. Rather than quit, she decided to keep going (no doubt a defining moment!) and hung on to finish her first 26-mile race.

“As stupid as I felt out there running, I’m proud of myself,” Johnson said after the race. “I guess I was in better shape than I thought. I feel fine.”

Johnson finished the 26-mile marathon in four hours and four minutes, good enough for 83rd place in the women’s division – definitely qualifying as one of her life’s defining moments. Why? Until that time, her longest run was eight miles.

Like Johnson, we each experience our own defining moments on the road of to excellence.

It is important to be aware of our defining moments. They make us who we are. Additionally, we have the opportunity to create defining moments for those around us every day. In fact, the pathway to excellence is paved with these moments – positive defining moments we create for others.

I remember earlier in my career, I was hungry to advance to an executive leadership position. I thought I was doing all the right stuff, but I wasn’t getting there as fast as I had hoped. So I asked a respected friend and colleague what he thought it would take for me to break through to the next level. He sat quietly and thought for a minute, then with penetrating eye contact he slowly advised, “Well, Lee, from my perspective, you should probably focus more on performing your current role excellently than worrying about your next move.”

It was incredibly valuable and humbling advice – a defining moment for me and my (never ending) journey toward excellence. It taught me that excellence is achieved in the moment, not in the future.

The holiday season is a magical time – the perfect time to create a positive deining moment for someone important to you. It’s not as hard as it might sound. Take a moment to:

  • Say, “I love you”.
  • Forgive someone who hurt you.
  • Say, “I appreciate you”.
  • Reach out to someone.
  • Help a friend even though you might feel like you need help.
  • Say “I’m sorry”.
  • Say, “I love you.” – that’s worth repeating!

Looking for the perfect gift this holiday season? Create a positive defining moment for someone in your life. It will be the best gift you could ever give… and receive.

Happy Holidays!