When do we learn our leadership development lessons anyway? As Kurt Russell said in the movie Miracle, “You think you can win on talent alone. Gentlemen you don’t have enough talent to win on talent alone.” Of course, he was referring to the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team after a dismal showing against the Norwegian National Team. The same is true about leaders today. Talent alone is not enough.

Of course, you need to take courses on leadership development to be a better leader and, for that matter, everyone should be taking courses on how to be a better follower as well. It goes beyond just the theoretical and what can be taught in a classroom. Many have heard the old expression, “Who you know may get you in the door and the job, how well you do will keep you there.” There is something to that expression.

We need to continue our education at the classroom level to compliment what we learn from on-job-training. Ask yourself these questions: How many industry specific training days have I taken in the last 12 months and how many non-industry specific training days have I taken in the last 12 months? Top leaders take between four and eight in each arena every 12 months.

Leadership DevelopmentWhat about all of the other ways we learn? Is it possible that we learn and do not even recognize that we have learned something until years later? Absolutely!

We all have lessons we learned in many different ways. We refer to these as defining moments in our life. Our life can be our personal or professional life and the more we have our eyes open to what we can learn the more we do learn. When we add this to our formal talent training, we get great leaders. It is even possible to have a defining moment in our personal life that can help define us in our professional environment. Of course that also works the other way around. A defining moment at work can impact our personal life the next day, the next month, or maybe not for years to come. Regardless, we learn from the defining moments of our lives. In many cases, these are the really hard lessons we learned.

To identify the top defining moments in your life (both personal and professional) navigate these six simple steps:

  1. Write down the top 10 lessons you have learned in your work life.
  2. Think back over each of those lessons and determine your earliest recollection about this lesson. Remember, just because it is a work life lesson does not mean you did not have a pre-work life understanding of this lesson and brought it into your work life.
  3. Write down the top 10 lessons you have learned in your personal life.
  4. Go back and write down your earliest recollection about those lessons.
  5. Set the above aside and next write down the names of the top 10 people who have had a positive influence in your whole life.
  6. Go back to your lessons and write down those lessons that have immediate implication in both your personal and professional segments of your life.

You now have the top defining moments in your life. Now, revisit those moments and see what other lessons may be hiding in there that you have yet to uncover. This exercise will require a significant amount of reflecting on your part, but it is definitely time well spent. Do not attempt to do this exercise in less than an hour. I also suggest you do not do this at your office. In many cases people have taken a long weekend to uncover their defining moments.

Now here’s an added bonus; look to see who among your influencers had the greatest effect on your life. Here comes the hard part. In many cases this person (or persons) will be someone you are still close to today and maybe even a family member. When was the last time you thanked them for what they have done for you? Your assignment is to call or visit them within 72 hours of completing this exercise, while the impact is still fresh.

If they are outside of your immediate family and they have passed away, then think, do I know any of their immediate family members? If you do, then call or go see them. You will possibly set a defining moment in their life. How awesome would that be – bringing it all full circle. That is what great leaders do.

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