Making the Right Decisions At the Right Times
The debate of whether a leader is made or is born is irrelevant, according to leadership consultant Julia Tang Peters in her book Pivot Points. Through in-depth interviews with selected leaders followed by a carefully targeted survey of 500 professionals, Tang Peters confirmed that successful leadership is invariably a journey that involves five “pivot points” — five pivotal decisions that serve as the catalysts to a leader’s careers. Thus, the successful leader differs from others not through innate leadership ability or acquired knowledge and experience but through the ability to evolve: to make the key decisions in their careers when they’re needed, in the words of Tang Peters, to “change the story and hold themselves accountable.”
The Five Pivot Points
The five pivot points in a leader’s career, writes Tang Peters, are the launching point, turning point, tipping point, recommitment point and letting go point.
The launching point is the decision of leaders to do more than their jobs, she writes. It is the decision early in their careers to achieve mastery in certain skills because work has become more than just about making money. They have goals and aspirations and are motivated to achieve them.
The turning point occurs when leaders want to take their business to the next level just when a pressing need or opportunity gives them the chance to do just that — if they make the right decisions. The turning point, according to Tang Peters, lays the foundation for them to become leaders in their fields.
The tipping point is when leaders become fully engaged in the art of leadership. They are at the height of their power. They have a team that takes care of the substantive responsibilities, freeing them to focus on visionary leadership both inside and outside of their organizations.
At some point in the leadership journey, there will be turbulence and significant change that forces leaders to reconsider where they are and where they are going. The recommitment point, writes Tang Peters, “is primarily a decision to recommit to self — to their North Star.”
Inevitably, there is in the journey of all leaders a letting go point — when it is the right time to leave, “a time of strength so that others can carry on the work.” This can be an emotionally challenging time for leaders given their passion and commitment to the work over so many years. But it is also the time when leaders build their legacy.
Tang Peters illustrates her five pivot points through case studies of five leaders — two in their 80s and three in their mid-50s. The ages are important, as identifying the five pivot points in a career is most accurately done at the end of a career. Thus, for the younger leaders, the author writes, “the decision points having the greatest impact on their entire careers may look different later and are yet to come.”
Nevertheless, the case studies bring to life Tang Peters’ theoretical framework. For example, for marketing entrepreneur Bud Frankel, founder of Chicago-based marketing powerhouse Frankel and Company, the pivot point that had perhaps the greatest impact on his career was the launching point: when he decided that rather than struggle to be a partner in a PR firm, working for people such as his boss who admitted to Frankel that “he didn’t want to work that hard,” Frankel realized that he had to start his own firm to reach his dreams.
For Bridge2Rwanda founder Dale Dawson, the most important pivot point in his career was “letting go” — specifically letting go of a business career that had made him very successful and wealthy. Dawson had been a partner at KPMG at 30 years old, then built the investment advisory unit at Stephens Inc., the firm behind Walmart’s IPO, before buying, turning around and selling a retail truck parts company. At 46 he was financially set for life, and that, as Tang Peters explains, is when he let go, deciding to leave his business comfort zone and instead launch a nonprofit that advances economic development for the very poor of Rwanda.
With the detailed stories of these leaders, bolstered by two chapters that encapsulate the lessons to be drawn from their examples and Tang Peters’ additional research, Pivot Points offers a new mindset for leadership development: It’s not who you are or what you learn that makes you a leader; it’s making the right decisions at pivotal times in your career that turns leadership potential into reality.