Monthly Archives: December 2020

24. Gaze Out the Window

Our guest in this episode is HBS Professor Joe Badaracco. His latest book is Step Back: Bringing Reflection Back into Your Life. Joe begins with a story about a private equity guy who invests in start-ups and sits on their boards. He always tells young CEOs that if he ever walks into their office and finds them with their feet up on the desk, staring out the window, he’ll double their salary. He wants them to know that it’s okay to reflect, even daydream.

But why do we need permission when we know that stepping back not only helps us make wiser decisions, but also likely leads to a better quality of life? It’s because knowing something and actually doing it aren’t the same thing. On any given day many of us are working overtime to put out fires and meet looming deadlines. Maybe tomorrow we’ll have a chance to think about the picture. But tomorrow never comes.

Joe lays out three steps to make reflection a daily habit. One is what he calls “downshifting.” That might be taking a few moments to lift your eyes and watch a tree swaying in the breeze. The next is “pondering,” taking an issue and consciously trying to see it from a variety of perspectives. Finally, there’s “measuring up.” It’s about considering the various ways you could evaluate success. (Sometimes that involves making the best of a bad situation.) In the smallest of nutshells “stepping back” boils down to being, thinking, and doing.

Get started yourself by listening to Joe describe how other people, seasoned leaders and those just beginning their careers, allow themselves time to slow down and reflect.

23. Do the Right Thing. Mostly.

What do you owe others—if anything—in regard to honesty, fairness, and how you use power?

That’s a core question every time you negotiate. And it’s just as important when you’re leading a group, large or small. Often, though, the hardest choices aren’t between drawing the line between right and wrong. Rather, they’re about reconciling competing obligations. Choosing between right and right, if you will.

Say, for instance, your organization is on the edge of a cliff financially. Does that give you license to use deception to strike a better deal with a customer or a supplier? Your first impulse might be to say “no.” If so, good for you. On the other hand, you are protecting your conscience at no cost to you personally. It’s your employer who will be worse off.

In this episode we get guidance on such questions from our friend and HBS colleague Max Bazerman. Over the years Max has written extensively about the psychology of decision-making, the irrational biases that can warp our thinking. Now Max has a new book: Better, Not Perfect: A Realist’s Guide to Maximum Sustainable Goodness.

Max counsels us to be wary of aspiring to be perfect saints. Having high ideals is admirable, but very hard to do, especially in these challenging days. But that doesn’t justify ignoring practical standards of moral responsibility. We should always take into account the broader social consequences of what we do and say. The good should outweigh the bad.

Here’s a tip from Max: to make better moral decisions don’t do it on the fly. Beforehand, as you’re preparing for a negotiation or a key meeting, anticipate the tough moral questions that might arise. What are your values and how will you balance them in this case?