There are a few moments in my 25 years in corporate life that will always stand out for me.

One of those moments was early on in my career when I was asked to present the accomplishments of my group at a department meeting where one of the senior leaders would be in attendance. While this was just another ordinary departmental meeting for the senior leader, it was a big opportunity for me.

I spent a long time preparing the data and going over the presentation with my manager and my vice president. Once they were satisfied, I felt confident in my preparations and went into the meeting to share my team’s accomplishments.

After presenting a graph of data, the senior leader took one look at the graph on the screen and declared that it was wrong. I asked what the oversight was and the senior leader proceeded to tell me that what I stated had been accomplished in the graph could not have been accomplished — therefore my data, my statements, and my presentation were wrong — end of story. There was no further discussion allowed and no elaboration on what was wrong. He had no patience for any more of the presentation.

In that ordinary moment, my senior executive did lasting damage to himself as a leader.

I had been very excited just six months earlier when this same man was appointed as the senior leader of our division. His initial speeches hit all the right marks and he said all the right things you would want to hear from a leader.

Yet, when it came time to actually be that leader, he failed me and everyone in the room through his behavior.

But most of all (and it took me a long time to gain this perspective), he failed himself because he failed us — those he was attempting to lead. A leader is a part of the team, not separate from it. Our successes are intertwined.

However, he did give me two great gifts that day. He showed me:

  • Who you choose to be in ordinary moments matters!
  • Trust can be broken in an instant!

Lest you think that this is a case of sour grapes, I am not implying that if the presentation was wrong, he should not have brought attention to it. Rather, what I am saying is that there is a way to engage in this type of situation that allows the truth to emerge and preserves human beings in the process. This, in my view, truly allows your leadership to shine through.

Who will you choose to be in your next “Ordinary Moment”?