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When I covered the Berkshire Hathaway annual meeting in 1994 for CNN, I was given just two minutes to interview the Chairman and Vice Chairman, Warren Buffet and Charlie Munger. I used one of my precious questions to ask Munger if his decision “to violate his own rule to not sit on outside boards and sit on the board of directors of Costco [Wholesale Corporation] was an implicit endorsement of the stock?” He glared down at me through his extra thick glasses. (The room was so small that I had to crouch on the floor to stay out of the camera shot.)

Charlie was peeved not only because I was pointing out an inconsistency between his words and actions, but also because I was asking him to violate his and Warren’s rule against making stock predictions. After about five agonizing seconds, Charlie finally, honestly, begrudgingly, spat out “Yes.” Warren, who had turned to stare at Charlie’s discomfort, swung his head back to me and exclaimed with a big smile, “That’s more than I ever get out of him!”

Charlie’s innate honesty kept him from ducking a question that most powerful people would fudge or simply decline to answer. But fudging and ducking is not what Charlie and Warren do, especially Charlie. They’re fully integrated human beings so, as former U.S. senator Bill Bradley recommends, the externals of their lives truly reflect the internals. They do and say what’s truly on their minds. And because they’re fundamentally honest and expressive, what you see and hear is who they truly are.

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19 Personality Traits of The Good Among The Great

Trait #8: RealisticA Clearer, More Efficient Perception of Reality

This is the big one when it comes to earthly success. I’ve found that the single biggest advantage that moguls and power brokers have over the rest of us is that they ‘get it’ faster and with less effort than the rest of us.

Some of the best observers of human nature also found that recognizing reality, warts and all, was necessary to succeed. The late 20th Century psychologist, Abraham Maslow wrote that the top one percent in terms of psychological health has a “greater freshness, penetration, and efficiency of perception.” The late, great psychiatrist and author M. Scott Peck wrote, “Mental health is an ongoing process or dedication to reality at all costs.”

Know thisif you’re navigating life with a clearer mental windshield, then all of your thinking, judgment and choices improve. If you develop a fresher, more penetrating perception of what people around you want and how situations actually arose, it will be as if you have a kind of x-ray vision into others’ motivations as well as circumstances… and even the future. You will spot frauds faster, you will trust your own impressions more, and you will get much better at predicting outcomes.

This is Chapter 8 of 20 within my forthcoming book, The Good Among the Great. This books aims to prove theaories of Abraham Maslow’s regarding the best individuals he could find. Maslow believed that only one percent of mankind, maybe less, were truly healthy, autonomous adults. Maslow died before he could pursue data-rich research; so much of this is his theory or a very educated set of observations about the exceptionally strong temperamentally. However, after interviewing hundreds of the world’s top business and political leaders, I found that Maslow’s 19 traits to be spot on when it comes to a subset of ultra achievers–the good among the great. Conversely, I found another subset, actually maybe the majority, among the high and mighty–the hyper-aggressive, to be profoundly lacking in many of these traits.

Back to reality and how the good guys among great achievers are wedded to it: Great individuals are realistic about everything, including themselves. Most of us don’t critically examine our “selves”–our strengths and weaknesses, faults and foibles, fears and longings. We don’t test our assumptions, nor do we look stoically at the repercussions of our actions. We certainly don’t recognize our blind spots. And we all have blind spots.

Indeed, whole societies have blind spots. Remember how a majority of Americans believed that the Iraqi’s had weapons of mass destruction, even after it was proved that they did not.

One of my favorite quotes is also a favorite of Berkshire Hathaway Vice Chairman, Charlie Munger“Recognize reality even when you don’t like itespecially when you don’t like it.”

OK, but how? First of all, shut-up. Second, listen.

Coming up: Part 2, “How Intel’s Andy Grove Absorbs Reality”

Cheers from Sonoma,

Donald