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...