It is essential to employ, trust, and reward those whose perspective, ability, and judgment are radically different from yours. It is also rare, for it requires uncommon humility, tolerance, and wisdom.

Dee Hock—Founder and Former CEO of Vista Credit Card Association

Your role in the midst of the innately risky environment called business—no matter your positional authority—is to make Judgment calls. These decisions will impact the future of your division, your company and most certainly your career. Some of the Judgments will generate small ripples of impact while others will have large-scale consequences. No one is expecting you to make perfect decisions just ones that are based on a rational, thoughtful, open-minded exploration.

How you respond in the midst of these points of challenge often has you being seen as a consistent, high-potential future of your organization—or not. Since Judgment has such a far-reaching impact for your career, begin building this strength early when the ramifications are small, so you are prepared when your time to make that big one arrives. This proactive practice allows you to uncover your Judgment sweet spot. The reality is that an out-of-control ego is just as harmful as is the timid unwilling-to-decide ego for making healthy Judgment calls. Neither of these extremes of the decision spectrum prospers either your career or your organization.

Do not buy into thinking every decision has to be perfect. This will leave you mired in a black hole of decision-making. Instead, intend to take a leaf out of Colin Powell’s decision-making formula.

“Part I: P=40 to 70, in which P stands for the probability of success and the numbers indicate the percentage of information acquired.

Part II: Once the information is in the 40 to 70 range, go with your gut.

Don’t take action if you have only enough information to give you less than a 40 percent chance of being right, but don’t wait until you have enough facts to be 100 percent sure, because by then it is almost always too late.”

What is a balanced Judgment focus?

Judgment is the linchpin of all leadership attributes. It is complex because it does not only include thinking through the data in front of you. It necessitates seeking out the valued viewpoints of others and openly debating the issue with them. It requires you tapping into your own considerable experience and knowledge—after all why else do you hold your position in the organization? It is your ability to collect, weigh and assess decisions from a multitude of perspectives and alternatives before formulating the best possible solution that is seen as balanced Judgment. This ego-less process is what will make you a great decision-maker.

General Stanley McChrystal author of Leading and Learning From Errors asserts, “If we don’t get a culture where they are informed by information and empowered to use their best judgment, we fail.”[1] Who is McChrystal? Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates described him as “perhaps the finest warrior and leader of men in combat I’ve ever met.”

What are some simple shifts you can make to engage your Judgment?

  • Learning Your “Myside Bias”[2]: Open-mindedness is fundamental to good Judgment and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. The truth is that we human beings tend to tenaciously cling to our beliefs. The more deeply embedded they are the more resistant we are to changing our viewpoint. Actually, some biases are so widespread that even the best thinkers display them.[3] And it is harder than you can imagine for any of us to go against our preferred plan and listen with a willingness to shift our perspective. However, to do anything less is looking at the situation from a rigid mindset which slams the door on innovation, change and any other key aspect of a flourishing organization.
  • Learning from Mistakes: Yes, as Will Rogers says: “Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” The key is how you view and respond and learn from your miscalculations. Never ignore past lessons or even those of others you respect in the midst of making up your mind. You know the much heard saying: “If you always do what you have always done you will end up in the same place.” Mistakes are nothing more than the pause of learning which is foundational for healthy Judgments.
  • Learning to Reset: Thinking a Judgment that has gone a bit awry or even wildly off course is irretrievable won’t get you anywhere. It is a trap that will hold you stuck. There are plenty of examples in business where an organization’s strategic Judgment has gone off-track; and yet once recognized, midstream corrections were made or the companies moved past the misstep to build a great future. Do you remember New Coke? Or George Lucas signing over any and all merchandise rights to Star Wars films for $20,000?[4] Or Steve Jobs’ decision to hire John Scully who then turned around to fire Jobs from his first term at Apple or…? You have the picture and we know the outcome of these misjudgments. Coke made a successful course correction to be ranked #6 on Fortune’s 2014 Most Admired Company list. Or George Lucas, who went on to create many more movies including the Indiana Jones series. Or Steve Jobs successfully reuniting with Apple to be responsible for products that have only changed the face of the world. Not bad at resetting is it!

What does it look like when you take Judgment too far?

There are plenty of examples in business where entrenched beliefs led to Judgment calls that ultimately harmed or in many cases destroyed the company perhaps not short term but long term. Think about the Time Warner/AOL deal or Western Union or Kodak or so many others. How are they doing? Where are they? They all lost their time in the sun because of damaging decisions.

Poor Judgments are revealed in many ways, so check yourself because buying into any one of the beliefs below will harm you long term.

  • “Changing your mind is a sign of weakness.
  • “Intuition is the best guide in making decisions.
  • “It is important to persevere in your beliefs even when evidence is brought to bear against them.
  • “One should disregard evidence that conflicts with one’s established beliefs.”[5]

As you can see, a great deal of the trouble can be attributed to poor decision-making assumptions so check your internal pulse to see if any of these thoughts are handicapping your thinking process.

Do you know your strengths?

Via Character Strength is yet another tool to assist you in the journey toward self-awareness which is foundational to healthy leadership. If you have read this far, perhaps you are interested in taking a deeper dive into your Strengths to explore how gaining broader knowledge on the topic will support your career growth. Or, as a manager, you may want to build your team through establishing a foundation for powerful interactions.

If you’re interested in pursuing any or all of the 24 Character Strengths, email me at info@nancyfredericks.com

 Resource:

Listen to a brief YouTube video below by Warren Bennis, a foremost business author and sage, on Emotion and Judgment.  Professor Bennis, who passed away last year, was sought out by generations of business leaders, among them Howard D. Schultz, the chief executive of Starbucks, who regarded him as a mentor. Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford and Ronald Reagan all conferred with him.


[1] CBS This Morning, May 11, 2015 interview.

[2] The term “Myside Bias” comes from research by scholar Irving Janis, 1982.

[3] J. Baron, 2000.

[4][4] Thanks for the Lucas tidbit from: http://www.forbes.com/sites/erikaandersen/2013/10/04/it-seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time-7-of-the-worst-business-decisions-ever-made/

[5] Character Strengths and Virtues, Christopher Peterson, Martin E.P. Siligman, Oxford University Press, 2004.

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