Archives For August 2012


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Everyone says they want to do the right thing. But in the struggle to do it, how do we know what is truly right?  From Built to Last (1) and the last blog, we discovered that the Do-Rights created companies that were incredibly successful. How did they know what was right? How do any of us know that?


We’ve lost the art of knowing the Highest Moral Action, the HMA: Sadly, 75% of our high school and over 60% of college and grad students cheat (2); 43% of U.S. children live without a father(3); and 87% of U.S. managers would commit fraud to make their firms look better(4). According to Kerry Patterson’s research in Crucial Conversations, 98% of Americans are conflict avoidant (5) – and, ergo, are cowardly. Our once-robust economy, now busted by fraud, grows joblessness and insecurity. Meanwhile, we argue that we can’t really know the right thing.


I was a small, scared, asthmatic, legally blind kid in a tough, Fist City black ‘hood. Movies were an escape. I loved Disney’s pre-Pixar Pinocchio – a little wooden puppet who wants to be a real boy. The Blue Fairy says the puppet’s wish for humanity will come true if he is “brave, truthful and unselfish” – in other words, if he can become a prince of character.



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To be brave, truthful and unselfish, Pinocchio (and young Gus) will have to listen to his conscience.

Here’s the catch: Pinocchio doesn’t know what a conscience is. The real challenge in 21st Century America is that we don’t know, either. We no longer morally reason. Today, “conscience” is outdated. I’m an educator, and a corporate and government trainer, and I don’t hear that word in the classroom or seminar space until I raise it. The word, “Conscience,” causes people to frown, pause and think.

The kind Blue Fairy commissions Jiminy Cricket to act as Pinocchio’s conscience to face temptation, bad company, easy wrongs and moral disaster. Jiminy warns him, but the wooden lad is “grabbing life.” Mistakes continue; Pinocchio lies. This endangers everyone, like a moral Ebola virus.

In the final act, he sees and then does the highest moral action: he has to save others from his errors. This will cost Pinocchio’s life.

In imitation of reality, the Blue Fairy grants a second chance to the now brave, truthful and selfless puppet. We get it: when conscience is animated, we see the highest moral action, and love becomes possible, relationships flourish in happiness, and life gains deeper meaning.

But that’s just a fairy tale, right?


Brave is Disney’s newest in a pantheon of fifty-plus cartoon films. To protect her own interests, Merida, a headstrong princess with hair the color


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of a forest fire, resorts to the advice of a witch. Where’s Jiminy Cricket when we need him? The resulting spell cast upon her mother, Elinor, produces a family and community tragedy.

Merida must discern the meaning of the riddle, Mend the bond torn by pride. She must stop blaming the witch and accept that her self-centered actions led to awful consequences. It’s only when a conscience-stricken Merida sees the highest moral right – the hardest thing to do – that healing occurs.

But it’s only a fairy tale, right?

Maybe not. The movie-reviewing website Rotten Tomatoes found that Brave was liked by an impressive 80% of viewers. Is this speaking to a longing for us to KNOW and DO what is right?

In Courageous Leadership seminars, I teach Three Tools to know the Highest Moral Action. The first, installed by original engineering in each of us, is the conscience. Except for Disney and the Built to Last Do-right firms, it’s gotten a bad rap.

We access Conscience by stepping on our mental brakes, letting Conscience whisper to us and by discerning the highest moral action. We accept that trying to figure out the right thing is better than saying it can’t be identified. The alternative method is to ignore the moral whispers and prepare for the eventual unintended results to yell in our ears.

In subsequent blogs, I’ll reveal the other two methods of discerning the Highest Moral Action. In today’s turbo-world, Jiminy Cricket needs help!

QUESTION: What behaviors can you adopt to slow down on high-speed moral intersections, and allow Conscience to have its small but powerful voice?

(1)    Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperCollins, 1994

(2)    www.academicintegrity, the International Center for Academic Integrity

(3)     U.S. Department of Census, 2010

(4)    2010 Global Fraud Study by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners

(5)    Patterson,, Crucial Conversations, McGraw-Hill, 2nd Ed (2011

We all want success. But do you have a list of actions to achieve it?

If you had a magic lamp, would you be wise, or impulsive? If our blog gave you Three Habits for Success, would you follow them?

Magic lamp

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In 1933, Winston Churchill reported that Adolph Hitler was going to war. Churchill observed that democracies would have to quickly change behaviors to survive it. Few believed him. Even fewer acted until it was nearly too late.

In 1994, in Built to Last,* Stanford business professors reported on how to maximize profits. Research said corporations which did the right thing made more – huge amounts more – than companies that simply sought results.

Do-rights made 700% more than their rivals and 1500% more profit than the general market. No flash in the pan: they made these huge profits for a hundred years.

Do-rights were led by gutsy, principled people who inspired their companies to actually live out high core values behaviors. It’s what leaders do.

Like Churchill, this blog does more than report facts. It provides behavioral solutions to recurring, age-old problems. It is a call for action to replace fearful expedience with courageous right action.

I’ve worked with extremely inspiring, Do-right leaders. Because they listened, and believed the Stanford data and the principles that pre-existed the research, they found the courage to adopt the Three Habits. They did this despite discomfort, they did it despite fear, and they became built to last.

I was Formed to Fizzle. I preferred early promotion over improved character. I chose trying to look good over being morally right. While these bad habits stymied my success, they at least produced stress, frustration and unhappiness.

How can you be Built to Last? I’ve studied this question for four decades.

The answers are not about intellect, speed or margins. They’re about doing the right thing and changing behaviors. They’re about loving virtue.

Here’s your Magic Success Lamp. Are you ready to test your wisdom with three clear – and tough – new habits?

1.        Discern the Highest Moral Action. Everyone thinks, but few discern. This isn’t easy! It takes guts to practice this. No more thinking short-term, expedient decisions that seem easier, but aren’t really.

2.        Do the Highest Moral Action You’ve identified the Highest Action. Now use your strong backbone to do that action regardless of fear or risk to self-interest.

3.        Work with a Mutual Accountability Partner to encourage you to adopt Habits 1-3. (Even if you’d prefer root canals to changing your old ways.)

THE QUESTION: How will you adopt the Three Habits? Check in next time for tips on how to discern and do the Highest Moral Action. Meanwhile, enjoy practicing your new Habits of Success, and becoming Built to Last!

*Jim Collins and Jerry Porras, Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, HarperCollins, 1994