Defining Moments of Ethics

A characteristic of servant leaders is a commitment to the growth of individuals, but such a commitment to growth must start with a commitment to the leader’s personal growth (Humphreys, 2005, p. 1414). One of the most important areas for intentional growth is regarding ethics. Badaracco (1997) makes the case that ethical growth is founded in the defining moments that occur in individual’s lives through a three-step process: revealing, testing, and shaping.

Defining moments for a leader reveal the leader’s values, giving insight into a person’s basic abiding commitments in life (Badaracco, 1997, p. 57). Defining moments also test the strength of commitment one has to those values (Badaracco, 1997, p. 7). As a leader goes through a defining moment, a need for clarity with create a compulsion to arrange values in a single file revealing the priority placed on each value (Badaracco, 1997, p. 57). This revelation of hierarchical order indicates the leader’s commitment level to certain values, whether they are truly values or ideals that don’t translate into decisive action (Badaracco, 1997, p. 59). In the end, defining moments shape the character of the leader (Badaracco, 1997, p. 7). Some shaping of a leader is an accumulation of minor moments: a series of uneventful, minor decisions or actions that individually may seem insignificant, but cumulatively over time form character through a defining moment (Badaracco, 1997, p. 61).

This process is a natural process that occurs, but as a leader, one must choose to engage in the process and allow it to take course. Intentionally pausing at each stage rather than quickly moving through, or ignoring the effects of the process, will give greater insight and understanding to a leader, which will also help guide and develop others around them, thus fulfilling the Great Commission of making disciples (Mt. 28:18-20).


Badaracco, J. L. (1997). Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right (1 edition). Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.

John H. Humphreys. (2005). Contextual implications for transformational and servant leadership. Management Decision, 43(10), 1410–1431.

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