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September 25, 2000A 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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