Article review: The Discipline of Building Character by Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. Submitted by – Kumar Rishikesh We’ve all experienced times when our professional responsibilities conflict with our values:. During these defining moments, we must choose between right and—right. Unlike other ethical decisions, where the options are clearly right and wrong, defining moments ask us to choose between two ideals. Resolving defining moments requires skills not listed on most job descriptions—probing self-inquiry, in particular.
These skills enable us to craft an authentic identity based on our own, rather than others’, understanding of what’s right. Managers who brave the process renew their sense of purpose—and transform their values into shrewd, politically astute action. The author proposes that the workplace presents three increasingly complex types of defining moments—for individuals, managers, and executives. For each type, probing questions can clarify core values, helping us decide what to do. 1. Who Am I? Defining Moments for Individuals
This type of defining moment asks us to clarify our personal identity while grappling with two equally valid perspectives. Questions include: What feelings and intuitions are conflicting? Example: When Steve Lewis, an African-American, realized his boss wanted him to attend a company presentation as “a token black,” two of his values clashed: He wanted to earn his professional advancement but also wanted to “be a team player. ” Which conflicting values mean the most to me? Example: Remembering his parents’ dignified, effective response to prejudice, Lewis felt deeply moved.
He decided his race was a more vital part of his moral identity than his professional role. How will I implement my personal understanding of what is right? Example: Lewis decided to attend the presentation—but as a participant rather than a “showpiece. ” He successfully delivered part of the presentation, demonstrating he was a team player and would not be treated as a token. His ethically informed decision also advanced his career. 2. Who Are We? Defining Moments for Work Groups As managers advance in an organization, their defining moments grow more complex.
In addition to their own beliefs, managers must consider their work group’s values. Questions include: What other strong, persuasive interpretations of the situation’s ethics exist, besides mine? This question prevents you from imposing your understanding of what is right. Example: Peter Adario’s new account manager, Kathryn McNeil, was highly qualified and competent. But as a single mother, she was also struggling to keep up with her work. Her supervisor, Lisa Walters (who reported to Adario), complained. The situation pitted Adario’s belief in work/family balance against his duty to the department’s bottom line.
But before he could act, Walters went over his head to fire McNeil. If Adario had realized earlier that he and Walters saw McNeil’s situation through different lenses, he might have prevented the firing. What point of view is most likely to win the contest of interpretations and influence others? Based on company culture and goals, group norms, and political jockeying, whose point of view would prevail in your organization? Example: By asking this question, Adario might have seen the McNeil issue within a larger work/family context. During these fast-paced, demanding times, employees with children struggled to keep up.
Those without family demands resented working longer hours to compensate. Their viewpoint would likely prevail. What can I do to help my interpretation win? This question enables you to plan for the resolution of defining moments before they arise. Example: Instead of waiting for the work/family issue to catch him and his group by surprise, Adario could have anticipated the problem and defined an organizational culture that valued both family and work. But Walters preempted him and filled the vacuum his inaction had created. 3. Who Is the Company? Defining Moments for Executives
Executives running companies face even more complex defining moments that test them, their work groups, and their entire firm. They must choose actions that protect all stakeholders’ interests. Have I done all I can to secure my position and the strength and stability of my organization? Example: In deciding whether to market RU-486, the “French abortion pill,” Roussel Uclaf CEO Eduoard Sakiz faced a defining moment. Antiabortion groups, pro-choice groups, shareholders, and France’s government (part owner of the company) were all fomenting international controversy over the drug.
Though Sakiz believed in making abortion safer, he also had a responsibility to protect employees’ jobs and security. He knew he’d need to secure his own position in the firm in order to bring RU-486 to market. Have I thought creatively and boldly about my organization’s role in society and its relationship to shareholders? Example: Sakiz decided to define RU-486’s role in a daring way: supporting a core group of stakeholders (women seeking non-surgical abortions, and their physicians) through astute political activism.
This path resonated with his own core values and the desires of the majority of employees and stakeholders. Sakiz needed to find a way to introduce the drug to the market. But how? What combination of shrewdness, creativity, and tenacity will make my vision a reality? Carefully assess your opponents and allies, asking “Should I play the lion (coming out roaring) or the fox (taking an indirect approach)? ” Example: Deciding to play the fox, Sakiz announced that Roussel Uclaf would suspend distribution of RU-486.
When women’s groups, family-planning advocates, and physicians expressed outrage—and the French government threatened to transfer the RU-486 patent to another company—Sakiz reversed his decision. By calling out to his allies indirectly, Sakiz sparked a series of events that helped achieve his ends—without appearing to lead the way himself. Results? He secured his future in the company; protected employees and the bottom line by deflecting the controversy away from the company; and established Roussel Uclaf as a technological and social leader.