Great leaders and effective managers have all learned to capitalize on moments that matter.
In The Three Questions, the great Russian writer Leo Tolstoy instructs readers that there is only one time that is important — that time is now. The ancient Greeks also addressed the question of when to act, but with more finesse, using a concept called kairos (καιρός).
The Greek word focuses the question of when to act on the right, critical, or most opportune moment. Classical and modern rhetoric as well as digital media, science, and Christian theology have all adopted and applied the concept of kairos to their work.
In classical drama kairos refers to the most opportune moment for a critical action to take place. In archery it’s the best moment to fire an arrow in order to hit a target. In weaving it’s the moment when the shuttle can pass through threads on the loom.
You get the idea. Let’s see what we as leaders can do with the concept of kairos or moments that matter.
Yes, Tolstoy is right. All moments matter, but some matter more than others. Every greeting — morning, afternoon, or evening — presents an opportunity to engage. As I advised in 3×3 Engagement, one should always be prepared to engage anyone, anywhere, anytime, in a meaningful way. Managers who shine, are best at grabbing everyday moments to make a difference. They take the opportunity to recognize a job done well, not days later, rather in the exact (or close to) the moment it occurs. They use the opportunity to turn any moment of interaction into an opportunity to listen better, ask more/better questions, share more information, and create a magical moment of deeper connection. This is engagement on hyper-drive.
Leaders need to be prepared to coach at a moment’s notice but also to plan when and where to deliver prepared guidance. When the need arises to sit someone down for a more formal performance discussion, the question of kairos demands deliberate consideration. Not what time of day or which day of the week, but rather at what point the employee is in his or her professional development.
Great leaders never stall or procrastinate when faced with difficult challenges, like redirecting errant employee behavior. But finding the right time, or kairos, is not procrastination. It’s knowing what each employee needs at the time. In my blog post Leadership Intimacy: Give the Man a Fish Already! I apply the principles of Leadership Intimacy, which requires leaders to understand just what each employee needs — fish or fishing lessons.
The concept of kairos is easy to understand, but like most leadership skills, the devil is in consistent quality execution. Kairos demands that we pay attention and that we are present in a moments notice. What will it take for you to apply Kairos? Let’s talk about how we can help your leaders practice kairos.
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