February 13, 2015

Defining Moments, When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right – By Joseph Badaracco Jr.

Defining Moments is a valuable read for all. While the book is tailored to managers and how to critically think when faced with a “right vs. right” (Badaracco, 1997) decision, many of the lessons imparted are universal.

The book outlines three scenarios. What do you do when asked to participate in a meeting strictly based on your ethnicity, what do you do when you have a single mother on a team who is being perceived as not pulling her weight on a project, and finally what do you do when the product you are releasing is considered morally controversial.

As the topics above are explored, they are interwoven with the wisdom of philosophers such as Nietzsche, Aristotle, and Machiavelli. The book provides practical ideas and concepts on how to address situations where there isn’t a wrong answer, but a “right vs. right” (Badaracco, 1997), answer. One of the concepts explored is the “the sleep test”. When faced with a decision, we must rely on our feelings and instincts to make a decision. How did you sleep after making a decision? “It encourages people to ground decisions in their core intuitions, and passions, and commitments, rather than in principles and calculations” says Badaracco. (Defining Moments, 1997, page 49).

The chapter I found most meaningful is titled “A space of quiet”. Our lives are so accelerated and we are constantly under pressure to make decisions at a rapid pace. Managers are constantly pulled in multiple directions. The chapter explores the writing of Marcus Aurelius who was a Roman emperor and philosopher. He outlined in his journal that he often sought the quiet times of the day to take stock of himself; not about the day or the work that was done, but who he was as a man. He stressed slowing down, stepping back, thinking and analyzing one’s self. Aurelius believed that in finding peace within himself, he then could tackle the complications of his mission. He sought to learn from those who came before him and draw upon those lessons. The book Defining Moments supports critical thinking, taking the time to analyze a situation when faced with a defining moment before making a judgment.

While the book is not substantial in length, it is heavy in thought provoking notions and worth taking the time to read.

Badaracco, J. L., Jr. (1997). Defining moments: When managers must choose between right and right. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

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