September 25, 2000—A
Moment of Truth Versus Mendacity
The dictionary tells us that "the moment of truth" is when
the matador is about the make the kill. Or, it is the millisecond when one's
character is tested in the extreme. We prefer the latter definition;
television newscasters celebrate the former.
This week in the Olympics we had such a telling moment. Mark Crear came in
second in one of the hurdle events, though he still fairly sailed across the
obstacle course. For us he was the winner, because he was a wounded gazelle,
suffering a tear in his stomach muscles.
That is the moment of truth--when you soar, even though the pain of flight
is beyond description. In the moment of truth, through word or deed, you are
incandescent with belief. You radiate purpose, a devotion to principle, and
a sureness as to why you are on this earth. All in a moment's time.
In respect to corporate life, the change-masters hardly ever talk about the
moment of truth, since it is more appealing and rewarding to rhapsodize
about teamwork. This week, we talk about Aflac, Sybase, and Medtronic--all
companies who spent time in the pits, but who rose above it all with chief
executives who willed outstanding performances. The moment of truth--we
think--is the real Tipping Point in human affairs, yet another way of
understanding Malcolm Gladwell's excellent new book of that name.
A minor "moment of truth" happens in consulting all the time. At one certain
point, you are either terribly engaged with a client, fusing into a duality,
or you must walk away. Mr. B. of Boston taught me this years ago. One friend
just had to turn down an assignment with New York's premier investment bank,
because arrogance had become an impenetrable barrier to success. In the
professional world, both client and provider have to relinquish alienation
and perceived differences to become brothers under and over the skin.
A million years ago Burl Ives starred in Tennessee Williams' Cat on a Hot
Tin Roof. As Big Daddy, he raged about, shouting that he smelled
"mendacity in this house." At the hurdles, on the battlefield, even around
the core of a relationship, if you smell mendacity, nothing is going
anywhere. The mountains to be conquered in major victories are so big that
they will defeat untruthful spirits. Denial, avoidance of pain, leaves us on
the plateau of mediocrity.
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