Defining Moments

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Joseph Badaracco's Defining Moments invites the reader to become familiar with much of what has been asked by the esteemed and layperson alike about the morals and values of our time. The principle theme of the book is defined by its title, important decisions based on events that are thrust upon us. Badaracco uses specific characters to connect the reader to the consequences of decisions that each and every one of us make be they good or bad. Perhaps, Defining Moments is most poignant in its values and moral discussion within the context of its cases. 

The central characters to the book are Steve Lewis, Peter Adario, Edouard Sakiz, Stevens, and Rebecca Dennet. Each character embodies the analysis and understanding of business decisions and the ultimate price they pay on situations and overall treatment of an individual. Steve Lewis is an African American financial analyst who understand where he has come from with regard to being born to civil rights parents and has been fashioned in the Wall Street mentality. Lewis is asked to attend a presentation by the company that he is working for, for the sole purpose of being African American. The tokenism idea is one that has been discussed in certain business quarters but has not received much elsewhere. It is as if tokenism is a taboo word, one that people want to ignore; yet Badaracco finds a way to thread this topic within Defining Moments. Lewis must struggle with the complexity of being singled out for being African American and facing not getting ahead in his company with his selection to attend the presentation or not. The internal struggle not to compromise his core values and morals is what Badaracco seeks to unearth with the story. Should one compromise their own values to get ahead in a company? Is a job worth that much? 

In examining my own values of respect, one can feel Lewis's assessment of the situation. The company did not respect Steve enough to value his work, but rather showed their true colors by essentially telling him to attend a presentation to show forth the facade of diversity. Badaracco asks us if one's character can be defined by a single decision. Perhaps, that is the key with Steve Lewis. Is his character defined by the decision he makes? Not necessarily, but given the Wall Street environment that Steve had been incorporated into; it was undoubtedly something the reader could feel when Lewis asks his friend and partner, Andrew Webster, "what's the deal here?" (Badaracco) and Webster replies "let me tell you that the new state treasurer of Missouri is also black. The state treasurer wants to see at least one black professional, or the firm has no chance of being names a manager for this deal. I'm used to these situations, but if you feel uncomfortable with it, maybe you don't have to go. I could try to change my schedule and go instead of you" (Badaracco). 

At this point, the reader understands that Webster is using guilt with Lewis in an effort to suit his own ends. The most interesting aspect of Lewis's story is that he assumed that he has been chosen for his morals, values and expertise; not because he was African American. Thus, what bothered him was the overt attitude of Webster to do as you're told so to speak, if you want the job. But to what ends does one value their own respect not to bow down to threats even if they are subtle as the one Webster said to Steve? 

Lewis went back and forth in his decision as to whether to attend the presentation for the good of the company. He would show himself as a “team player” (Badaracco) after all, he had written opportunity on a note. “Opportunity also meant something else to Lewis. Both his parents had been strong supporters of civil rights, and his mother was a well-known local activist in Seattle. Lewis wondered if the St. Louis trip wasn't an opportunity to walk through the door his mother had tried to pry open” (Badaracco). Badaracco imposes a sharp presentation with Lewis that allows both insights into the business world, speaks to the lengths one will often go to, to have what they call the perfect job and enlightens the reader on the decisions that people often make as a result of what they believe their parents would want. The case of Steve Lewis sharply illustrates the classic right versus wrong and often how one decision affects the rest of one’s life.

The case of Peter Adario is somewhat similar to Lewis'. Adario "headed the marketing department and had spent most of his career as a successful salesman and branch manager" (Badaracco). His dilemma was one of conflict between one of the three senior managers who reported to him. One of the managers that reported to Adario was Lisa Walters, who wanted to fire another manager, Kathryn McNeil. Adario had to decide what to do. "Walters wanted to fire McNeil because McNeil's work was falling behind schedule" (Badaracco). Badaracco shows here the concept of accountability. Accountability is a very important thing to have especially in the work area. How can one let their work slack? While it can be assumed that most companies understand from time to time that things come up as McNeil was working mother, but to what extent is that the company's problem. This is the central question that Adario's case asks. Are companies accountable to their workers' issues, whatever they are? Should McNeil have gotten a pass for not being accountable in her job? The question is not as straight forward as one would assume given the working definition of accountability, especially in the workplace.

The internal struggle of Adario as a manager to define his legacy as a manager at the company would ultimately be the decision of whether or not to fire McNeil. This is one of the imperative principles of management - deciding an employees fate. Adario had personal and "professional conviction [that had been] reinforced by Adario's personal experiences" (Badaracco). The reader understood here that Badaracco was drawing a link between Adario and McNeil, therefore making it even more difficult for Adario to fire her for her lack of accountability. Adario did not end up firing McNeil thinking "it was simply wrong to fire someone, especially a dedicated single parent, who was working very hard at her job" (Badaracco). Was Adario's decision the right one? 

Based upon the definition of accountability, yes and no. Yes, because it was morally wrong to fire McNeil for her lack of work ethic at that particular time. McNeil had been a diligent worker and had simply fallen behind in her work. Adario understood this and it can be stated that this was the chief reason why he did not fire her. Companies and organizations often have to be careful about who they choose to fire because of one incident.

The case of Edouard Sakiz is one of controversy, to say the least. A longstanding physician, Sakiz was the central decision maker on whether pharmaceutical drugs were to be introduced. Sakiz worked as a medical researcher early in his career and "believed strongly that the drug RU 486 could help thousands of women, particularly in poor countries, avoid injury or death from botched abortions" (Badaracco). Yet, like any executive, Sakiz had a responsibility and honored his job at the firm and took seriously any types of incidents that may involve the employees of the company he worked for, Roussel-Uclaf. Sakiz's decision ultimately about RU 486 would define the values of the company he worked for and in turn, himself. 

Sakiz faced the question "who am I? Was he, first and foremost, a medical doctor, a scientific researcher, an advocate of women's rights, or a corporate executive with responsibilities to shareholders and employees? In addition, his decisions on RU 486 would commit his company to some values rather than others, thereby answering the organizational question Who are we?" (Badaracco). This case illustrates how one man or woman's decision can impact so many different variables of a company, both internally and externally.

Sakiz, in his decision making had to think about the honor of Roussel-Uclaf and their reputation. The company's "network of relationships and responsibilities raised difficult questions for Sakiz?" (Badaracco). The decision on RU 486 could be said to be the defining moment of Sakiz's career. Why? - due to the many aspects of how RU 486 and its introduction would affect women and Roussel-Uclaf. Sakiz's case directly compares to that of Lewis and Adario. Each case defines the importance of having ethics and morals when making decisions for organizations. Each man had a decision to make that would ultimately impact, either positively or negatively, the company that they worked for.

While the Sakiz case was slightly different in that "his decisions on RU 486 [would] define his firm's role in society and its relationships with its stakeholders. These powerful groups and important institutions were pushing and pulling the company in different directions. Each of them had staked out a clear moral position on RU 486. Some wanted Roussel-Uclaf to abandon RU 486. Others wanted it available, as soon as possible, around the world. Still others advocated a gradual introduction, starting only in developed countries, which had the medical infrastructure to deal with any unexpected side effects from the drug" (Badaracco). This is why Sakiz's decision was a defining moment in his career as a medical professional. His decision would have so many consequences, so the onus was on him to ensure that he understood the repercussions of that decision. The company's responsibility to its stakeholders and ultimately society was at stake. By Sakiz opting to release RU 486, any side effects from the drug would inevitably affect Roussel-Uclaf and Sakiz's reputation.

Badaracco notes that "when power over a decision is shared and fragmented, an extensive period of jockeying, maneuvering, and sometimes attack and counterattack precedes and shapes the final resolution of the right versus right issue. The difficulty of this task can be concealed by benign words. In reality, managers sometimes must bargain with and battle against powerful adversarial groups - some of a company's stakeholders. This raises a whole new set of issues, both managerial and ethical. When, for example, should managers fight fire with fire?" (Badaracco). Sakiz is perhaps the most complex of all of the individuals presented in Defining Moments because of the complexities his case offers the reader regarding personal and organizational decisions and how the two often intertwine especially with someone in the capacity of a company as Sakiz was.

In examining other characters and their defining moments, two characters also warrant analysis: Stevens, a butler to Lord Darlington and Rebecca Dennet.  Stevens works for Lord Darlington, who is an aristocrat wrapped in the devotion of world peace. To serve his cause, Stevens' plays a flawless orchestral role in serving Lord Darlington. The reader understands the purpose of responsibility in whatever job one has. Stevens respects his master, Lord Darlington and understands why Lord Darlington has devoted himself to the contribution of human welfare. Stevens seeks to achieve professional excellence by being the best butler he can be.

 The character of Stevens is one of business and accountability. Stevens has to basically make the decision to support Lord Darlington's mission as Darlington hosts a series of international conferences. Stevens must hold his tongue and embody the values of his boss and submit so to speak to the accountability of Lord Darlington. Stevens must also be reliable, which is one the values that the writer holds true. Reliability is one of the most profound aspects one can have. People think of certain individuals when they are reliable and call of them to be accountable and responsible for a task when they are reliable.

Stevens' life and career as a butler helps the reader to understand the practicality of the position and the costs of thinking about the smooth flowing faculties of an organization. One could relate Stevens' story to Lewis and the others as he experienced a defining moment as well in making the decision as to whether to uphold what Lord Darlington was trying to do. While Lewis and the others had what one could state to be more overt examples of defining moments, Stevens' character is one of being a great butler and being devotional to the cause of an organization, that being Lord Darlington’s manor. Dedication is another nugget that can be analyzed about Stevens. Stevens was dedicated to ensuring the goals of human welfare that Lord Darlington held dear were met to the tee. Lewis and the others were also dedicated to ensuring their responsibilities and tasks were carried out successfully as well; despite the differences in the tasks they were asked to carry out.

The central question for Rebecca Dennet is can managers get their hands dirty? Can they manage effectively if they manage innocently? I think it's necessary for managers to learn how to communicate properly. Badaracco enlightens the reader on the framework of defining moments through the case of Rebecca Dennet. Dennet cannot tell an employee, who is seeking information about her financial future that the bank branch would be closing. Dennett is faced with the decision of keeping something close to her vest to speak as she has told someone who is of higher position than her in the company that she will not tell anything. She wants to be true to her friend and true to her boss. Badaracco plays on the theme of being good to friends and good to bosses with this case. "Good managers often struggle with some version of this predicament. They want to live up to their personal standards and values, they have to meet the expectations of their customers and shareholders- often in the face of relentless profit pressures, and their own jobs are the foundation of their families' security. Most of the time, managers find ways to juggle all these responsibilities and aspirations. In some cases, however, they cannot" (Badaracco). In the case of Dennet, she cannot do both and must make the decision as to what to do.

Defining Moments examines the conflicts of everyday mangers. It provides insight into the business world and the unique choices that managers often must make in the face of conflicting obligations. Badaracco paints with heavy strokes the question that each and every one of us asks and that is what the right thing is. How will doing the right thing affect whatever it is we are setting out to do in an organization or simply in the day to day decisions we all make? Badaracco states that often times these right versus right problems that he speaks of, "typically involve choices between two or more courses of action, each of which is a complicated bundle of ethical responsibilities, personal commitments, moral hazards, and practice pressures and constraints" (Badaracco). The challenge for managers is to address all problems that satisfy this complicated bundle. The commitment is harder than one thinks as evident by the aforementioned case studies.

Quite possibly, it can be said that Badaracco's Defining Moments is a depiction of the elements of the human dilemma between right and wrong, or what he calls right versus right. Badaracco's book is engaging in its simplicity and the presentations of the dramatics behind the consequences of one's decision and how it can have many different effects within the context of not only the business world, but one's personal life as well. Each account provides an enlightening message on the questions that philosophy often asks about self-assessment and personal experiences and perspectives and how they frame the decision-making power a manager has.

Work Cited

Badaracco, Jr., Joseph L. Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right. Harvard Business School Publishing, 1997.