COMMENTARY 787.1: How Much Do You Want It to Be?

A company was hiring a new CEO. After an extensive interview each finalist was asked one final question: “How much is two plus two?”

Ann, an accountant, answered, forthrightly: “Four, of course.”

Terry, who was an engineer, said, “It depends on whether you’re dealing with positive or negative numbers. The answer could be plus four, zero or minus four.”

Chuck, whose background was in marketing, looked directly at the questioner and whispered, “How much do you want it to be?”

While Ann and Terry took different approaches they were trying to give a correct answer. Chuck wasn’t. To him the right answer was the one that worked. Should his response disqualify him or get him the job?

I’d show him the door.

First, let’s note that there’s a big difference between a rational decision and a rationalization. It’s rational to reason first and decide what to do; it’s a rationalization to invent reasons to justify what you want to do.

Chuck is a rationalizer and rationalizers don’t make good employees. They don’t make good leaders or friends either. They make excuses and give explanations without regard for truth. Some become so adept that they even deceive themselves to the point where they don’t even know what’s true, let alone what’s right.

Remember, an employee that will lie for you will lie to you. Inevitably it will become clear to everyone: “this person can’t be trusted.”

Rationalizing is essentially dishonest. That’s why we get so disgusted when politicians, pitch men or even our own friends try to con or manipulate us with insincere, clever justifications that sound good, but we know are not true. And that’s why people of character don’t rationalize.

This is Michael Josephson reminding you that character counts.

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