What We’re Reading Now – Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right

By Grant T. Smith

defThis month I conclude a three-month series on ethics by reviewing the final book in the series. I enjoyed each and every moment I spent devouring these books on ethics and may even have rekindled an old passion, from my university days, when philosophy was inspirational. This month I read Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right, by Joseph L. Badaracco.


I selected this book to round out the series as it is very directly tied to business and the application of ethics to the modern burden of running a company. The first book in my series introduced ethics. The second applied it to life. Now, this one narrows the focus to business operations, so perhaps this one is the most applicable to the needs of our audience.


Badaracco does not disappoint. I was drawn in from the very start when he referenced a Jean Paul Sartre play, Dirty Hands, which I had read previously and which associates the concept that one cannot lead without getting ones hands dirty. You cannot lead and remain innocent. As a business person, when you read this book you will appreciate the challenges of trying to get to right when there are no right answers or as Badaracco puts it, when both choices are right.


The book introduces three managers, each one facing a dilemma that will have serious consequences and each one requiring an answer. It is pointed out that for the given scenarios under review, both potential answers could be consider right and the goal of the book is to provide guidance in working through the challenges. The first character is facing a personal decision, the second one confronts issues involving the fate of staff, and the third deals with the future of an international company and its stakeholders.


The writing is clear and concise. The style is thought provoking while keeping the reader engaged in complex issues.


I was particularly drawn in by a discussion of “Sleep-Test Ethics” (i.e. if you have made the right decision, you will sleep soundly) in which the writer discusses the validity of this prevalent school of thought. In short, he debunks it and then carries it forward as a tool in the toolbox to be considered but not relied upon.


If you are a business owner, or a manager in a business, this book will assist in finding methods of decision making. It will give you an approach to making difficult decisions, especially when you feel compelled to choose both options simultaneously.


As a side note, our next newsletter will be exclusively focused on tax and I will not be reviewing another book before May. If you have any suggestions for my next review later this spring, I’d love to hear from you at Grant.T.Smith@clearlinecpa.ca. Thanks, as always.