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"For every manager there are critical moments that occur regularly. These moments often go unnoticed, and yet they will determine the manager's destiny." Bruce Bodakin and Robert Fritz, The Managerial Moment of Truth

One of your direct reports walks into your office and delivers a report - late and riddled with careless errors. Again. Besides a bad day and the beginnings of a headache, you have a choice: do you engage in a combative confrontation, or do you avoid the situation? Neither will do you any good, so why not try something revolutionary? Address the situation - and fix it.

Every day, leaders are faced with Managerial Moments of Truth (MMOT). Seize them, and you can fundamentally change your organizational culture for the better.

Moment of Truth

Bruce Bodaken and Robert Fritz coined the term "Managerial Moment of Truth," or MMOT, to describe these destiny-shaping moments - and to outline the choices that leaders face. They write, "The way you deal with these moments will either trap you in a cycle of limitations making your work life harder or enable you to unleash crucial capacity, align your team, and increase the impact of your leadership."

How? Let's back up. Say that you opt for Door #1 or #2: ugly confrontation or equally destructive avoidance. What message does this send to this direct report and the rest of your team? It tells them that you explode rather than lead and yell rather than guide. Or it tells them that they can produce sloppy work and miss deadlines, that they can override expectations with good excuses. It tells them that accountability is optional.

On the other hand, if you make the commitment to tell the truth, you can help your team learn from mistakes and become more effective, engaged contributors. Door #3's sounding like the grand prize, isn't it?

Recognizing a MMOT

How do you know when you're confronted with a Managerial Moment of Truth? After all, if these things can change your destiny, it's nice to be able to recognize them! According to Bodaken and Fritz, these moments consist of two distinct events:

  1. Your awareness that there is a discrepancy between what you expected and what was delivered. (e.g. you expected that report Wednesday and received it Thursday.)
  2. The decision you make about what to do with this information. (e.g. you are going to sweep the poorly done report under the rug and hope for better in the future or you're going to confront the employee).

Assuming that you do want to "unleash crucial capacity, align your team, and increase the impact of your leadership," you have to first change the performance. How? Start by asking four questions:

  • What happened?
  • How and why did it happen?
  • What can we learn that we can apply in the future?
  • How will we know the action plan or corrective/supportive action working?

Starting the Process

Using these insights, you can determine your response by using Bodaken and Fritz's four-step "outcome-oriented" MMOT technique.

Confrontation is difficult for most people; we don't want to cause embarrassment or discomfort for others - or ourselves. But confrontation doesn't have to mean conflict. You - and your direct report - are confronting an issue together. This technique can help you do that effectively:

Step 1: Acknowledge the Truth

Let's return to our hapless, late direct report: the first step in the MMOT technique is to simply acknowledge the situation. "This report is late, and there are errors in it." That's it; just the facts. Don't go down the dead-end road of "You let me down," "You're incompetent," or "You always do this."

Emphasize the facts, not the feelings, and get the direct report to agree to the reality of the situation.

Step 2: Analyze How the Situation Developed

Seek to understand the decisions that culminated in the current situation. Bodaken and Fritz suggest there are two elements in play: design and execution. Which was missing? For example, did your direct report miss the deadline because the very deadline itself was unworkable? Or, because he or she designed a workflow that wasn't conducive to the timely delivery of the report?

Or was it an issue of execution? Was the direct report distracted? Did he or she fail to delegate other tasks? Did he or she practice suboptimal work practices?

Get to the root of the issue, without assigning blame. The goal is to correct behavior - not alienate or embarrass employees.

Step 3: Take Action

Translate your insights into action. Document a plan that details how, specifically, the direct report will address the issue. This is an agreement that, as Bodaken and Fritz says, "will lead to another moment of truth." The direct report will either implement the actions, or not. You may have to readjust and create a new action plan - or, hopefully, celebrate progress well made.

Step 4: Create a Feedback System

How will you know the plan is working? Create a system by which you can assess progress. You can, for instance, schedule regular check-ins to talk about progress and make new suggestions.

Reinforce the Positive

The MMOT doesn't always have to be corrective; sometimes, your Managerial Moment of Truth comes when you realize that your direct reports have exceeded your expectations. Use the same four-step process to acknowledge that, learn from it, and help your direct reports apply those lessons to ensure continued success.

Whether reinforcing or corrective, "Truth is the most powerful platform from which to advance the mission of the organization." Don't waste these opportunities to improve performance and fulfill your "destiny" as an effective leader who gets results.


Larry Hart

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