While it may well be true that significant elements of our lives are shaped by the decisions of others, leaders can expect that their leadership journey will toss up some defining moments when they need to make their mind up about their identity and the direction of their life.
Who are you? Why are you here? Why should you choose this path and not another? Why turn down some opportunities and accept others? Why should you draw a line here and not there?
These are vital questions for anyone to ask, never mind leaders.
The answers will not always make sense to other people. Why should someone turn down the prospect of a well-paid job to lose themselves as a missionary somewhere or because they know that the job may require further choices that will conflict with their deepest convictions? Why would you turn your back on a comfortable existence to give your life in the service of people who have nothing of material value to give you in return? At various times we will need to ‘nail our colours to the mast’, perhaps when our colours are not in fashion! It’s part of deciding who we are.
I’m not particularly into musical theatre in general, but I have watched the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables on several occasions. It is full of powerful and poignant moments. There is the old priest who forgives Valjean for exploiting his hospitality to steal from him: his redemptive act sets up Valjean’s new life. There is the dramatic suicide of Inspector Javert who has been let off the hook by Valjean but as a firm believer that ‘the law is the law and the law is not mocked’ finds himself unable to live ‘in the world of Jean Valjean’. There is the moving moment at the end of his life when Valjean is reunited with Cosette and Marius.
And there is a dramatic scene where Valjean, now known as Monsieur Madeleine, and a successful factory owner, realises that someone else has been mistaken for him and is on trial. To say nothing condemns an innocent man, but to reveal his true identity puts the livelihood of his workers at risk.
In one of the show’s many memorable songs he weighs it all up before deciding to come clean and announce that he is Jean Valjean.
Who am I?
Who am I?
I’m Jean Valjean.
And so Javert, you see it’s true,
That man bears no more guilt than you!
Who am I?24601.
Defining moments are those moments when we need to decide who we are and what we stand for.