Defining moments are important situations that test a leader's commitment to his or her core beliefs and values. Author Robert Kiyosaki said that in these critical moments, "We become heroes or cowards; truth-tellers or liars; we go forward or backward."

These challenging situations require you to take a stand on difficult and sometimes controversial issues.

"The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy," Martin Luther King Jr. said.

What you do or don't do in these critical moments reveals a lot about your character and credibility.

Defining moments often produce these reactions in people:

  • Self-doubt Should I say what I'm thinking? Should I challenge the boss's proposal?
  • Fear and anxiety Will I get fired? Will I lose friends? Will I be judged?
  • Hesitation — Maybe I should wait and see how things unfold.

Leaders overcome their fears and anxieties, and they find the courage to stand up and do something.

Speaking up doesn't always place you in a favorable light. In some cases, half the people will support your idea and the other half may think you're irrational. Being a leader requires confidence, independence and grit. Leaders work hard to gain alignment with what they think, say and do.

What do you stand for?

What are your core beliefs and values? Where do you draw the line?

You must spend time in reflection and self-examination to identify what you truly believe and value. Your beliefs get tested in and fine-tuned over time. True leaders can tell you, without hesitation, what they believe and why.

On the other hand, weak leaders are indecisive and hesitant, and they sometimes become flip-floppers. They lack core convictions and seldom take a firm stand.

Some leaders post one or more of their core beliefs in their office. Here are some examples:

  • "It can be done!" — Sign President Ronald Reagan kept on his desk in the Oval Office.
  • "Do It Now!" — W. Clement Stone required everyone who worked for him to write those words on index cards and post them in their work area.
  • "Attitude is everything!" — Sign in red letters on the desk of Carol Leary, Ph.D., president of Bay Path University.
  • "Be Realistic, Demand the Impossible" — Sign on the office wall of T.J. Rodgers, founder and CEO of Cypress Semiconductor.
  • "Begin with the End in Mind." Stephen Covey — Sign on the home office wall of Chris Bartley, men's varsity basketball coach, Worcester Polytechnic Institute.
  • "Ideas Compete and People Collaborate" — Sign on a yellow Post-It note on the wall behind the desk of an HR manager at a Fortune 100 company.
  • "I'm Responsible." — Sign on the desk of Rudy Giuliani, former mayor of New York City from 1994-2001.
  • "A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world." John le Carré — Sign in the office of Louis V. Gerstner, Jr., former CEO of IBM.
  • "The time is always right to do what is right." Martin Luther King Jr. — Sign posted by Michael Jansma, president of

What do you have posted in your office? What are your top 3-to-5 core beliefs and values?

How do you speak up?

It’s not only what you say but how you say it. Are you in control of your emotions?

The best leaders have strong emotional intelligence (EI). When things get hot, they remain calm and in control. They are aware of their emotions and how their bodies react in stressful situations. You need to channel your emotions in a positive direction. When you speak up with sincerity and composure, people may not always agree with you, but they will respect you.

The behavior of great leaders reveals a consistent theme. They know what they stand for. They fight for what they believe is right. Think about Howard Schultz, Warren Buffet, Meg Whitman and Oprah Winfrey — they consistently speak up and deliver their messages with confidence and composure.

Do you have the EI needed to remain calm and focused when the pressure is on?

Key takeaway

To be a leader and make a difference ...

  • Take time to discover what you truly believe and value.
  • Work through your doubts and fears and find your courage and confidence.
  • Increase the alignment with what you think, say and do.