Defining Moments

Published: March 16, 2011

At its most basic core, what is your contribution to your team? I'm not talking about the easily visible actions. I'm asking about the themes and patterns that define your life and, as a result, get played out in your professional role.

Our professional roles are merely extensions of our life themes. Each of us selects roles and teammates based on complex clusters of needs that fulfill lifelong agendas. At first glance, it appears you have located a passion that expresses your natural wiring. If you’re lucky, work seems like play because you’ve selected a path that ignites an energy from within. Most often, however, our role on the team is influenced by historical events with deeper roots and more compelling stories. If you take a microscopic view, repetitive patterns become evident.

I was engaged in a conversation with a senior leader from a global financial services company last week when the conversation turned to “defining moments.” We were reminiscing about the turning points of our careers where single events shaped our personal and professional character. She recalled being summoned to resolve a potential workplace violence situation when, at 5’2″, she was required to disarm an angry employee that was literally over twice her body weight. She described a sense of calm and clarity overcoming her as she entered the crisis situation and navigated the room to safety. As the conversation ensued, it turned out that this was not the first situation in which she had been called upon to remain poised under stressful circumstances. It was, in fact, the key trait from which she had become professionally known. Always cool under pressure.

When we dug a little deeper, we discovered that remaining calm and focused during adversity had been a character requirement of her childhood and adolescence. The numerous examples that dotted her 30-year career as a team leader were simply extensions of the role she had assumed as early as her memory could excavate. Since this discussion, I’ve been asking teams to more closely consider their roles, not as defined by their job descriptions, but as determined by the circumstances of their life path. This exercise has certainly added depth to conversations about strengths.

What are your themes?

Steve Ritter is the Founder & CEO of the Team Clock Institute and the Managing Director of the Midwest Institute & Center for Workplace Innovation. You can learn more about executive coaching opportunities at

Photo of Steve Ritter, the co-founder of The Center for Team Excellence

Steve Ritter

Steve Ritter is an internationally recognized expert on team dynamics whose clients include Fortune 500 companies, professional sports teams, and many educational organizations. He is on the faculty of the Center for Professional Excellence at Elmhurst University where he earned the President's Award for Excellence in Teaching. Steve is the former Senior Vice President, Director of Human Resources at Leaders Bank, named the #1 Best Place to Work in Illinois in 2006 and winner of the American Psychological Association's Psychologically Healthy Workplace Award in 2010. Steve provides ongoing workplace culture consultation to many thriving companies including Kraft Foods, Advocate Health Care, Kellogg's, the Chicago White Sox, AthletiCo, and Northwestern Mutual Financial Network.