In an article published by Harvard Business Review titled “The Discipline of Building Character,” Professor Joseph L. Badaracco, Jr. wrote, “Character is forged at those defining moments when a manager must choose between right and right.”
Badaracco calls these times in life defining moments. There is a huge difference between a defining moment and an ethical decision, which is a choice between what we know to be right and wrong. Right vs. right decisions are tough to make, and once made, set us on a path that is nearly impossible to change.
The bulk of the article asks three questions that are focused on individuals, managers of work groups, and company executives. They are:
- Who am I?
- Who are we?
- Who is the company?
Each of these questions is divided further into three questions.
Who am I?
- What feelings and intuitions are coming into conflict in this situation?
- Which of the values that are in conflict are most deeply rooted in my life?
- What combination of expediency and shrewdness, coupled with imagination and boldness, will help me implement my personal understanding of what is right?
Who are we?
- What are the other strong, persuasive interpretations of the ethics of this situation?
- What point of view is most likely to win a contest of interpretations inside my organization and influence the thinking of other people?
- Have I orchestrated a process that can make manifest the values I care about in my organization?
Who is the company?
- Have I done all I can to secure my position and the strength of my organization?
- Have I thought creatively and boldly about my organization’s role in society and its relationship to stockholders?
- What combination of shrewdness, creativity, and tenacity will help me transform my vision into a reality?
Asking probing questions such as these will help guide you, your group, or your organization through those defining moments as they come up. Study these questions, and as life unfolds, and experiences make you who you are, you can rest assured that your character will not only remain intact, it will keep growing.