In The Leadership Challenge, 4th edition, we tell the story of the time in 2006 when Michele Goins, chief information officer for Hewlett-Packard’s Imaging and Printing Group, spoke to our Executive MBA students in Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University. What she said resonated very loudly with the group. “Leadership opportunities are presented to everyone,” she observed. “What makes the difference between being a leader or not is how you respond in the moment. ” One student commented to us that he had not realized until her heard Michele “how defining a single moment can be.” Michele’s observation and her own experiences of leadership in the moment are testimony to how important it is to approach every interaction and every situation as an opportunity to lead. Sometimes we imagine leadership to be something majestic—about grand visions, about world-changing initiatives, about transforming the lives of millions. While all are noble possibilities, real leadership is in the daily moments.
I became even more intrigued by Michele’s comment when I read an interview with Gloria Mark, associate professor at the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at the University of California, Irvine, and a leading expert on the nature of work. In that interview professor Mark said, 'What we found is that the average amount of time that people spent on any single event before being interrupted or before switching was about three minutes. Actually, three minutes and five seconds, on average.” Three minutes and five seconds! Wow. It seems all of us suffer from ADD. But here’s the strange part. I was in San Diego last week speaking to some alumni and friends of the Center for Creative Leadership as we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the opening of their San Diego campus. I shared Michele’s “in the moment” comment and Gloria’s “three minutes and five seconds” research with audience and then offered the observation that leaders clearly have only moments in every day to influence others around critical matters such as vision and values. If you do the math and divide 480 minutes in an eight–hour day, there’re are 160 of these moments. At the break a participant came up to me and asked me if I had heard the Billy Joel song “The Entertainer.” I said yes, and then she asked if I remembered the words. I confessed that I didn’t, and then she recited this line: “It was a beautiful song, but it ran too long. If you’re gonna have a hit you gotta make it fit, so they cut it down to 3:05.” “No way,” I said and we both laughed.
You know, maybe leaders need to take a cue from songwriters. If we want to make an impression on our audiences, we need to focus and keep our messages succinct.
Posted by Jim Kouzes