Simply put, life is merely an endless continuation of one decision after another that ultimately shapes who we are, the life we live, and the success we achieve. We make hundreds of decisions each day like; what time we wake up, what we eat for breakfast, the clothes we wear, the kind of toothpaste we use, how we prioritize our time, etc. Decisions have consequences, both good and bad, and the goal is to make the best decisions possible so you can enjoy the benefits that brings. As the world continues to change at a more rapid pace, we are required to make faster decisions, which means we must continue to hone our judgement making skills.
Judgment – the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make decisions – is “the core of exemplary leadership,” according to Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis (the authors of Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls). It is what enables a sound choice in the absence of clear-cut, relevant data or an obvious path. To some degree we are all capable of forming views and interpreting evidence. What we need, of course, is good judgment. The question is, how do you better develop your judgement? Below is a compilation of proven practices that will improve your judgement and make you a more respected decision maker that gets optimal results:
- Listen & learn – the best thing you can do as a leader is listen. That does not mean listening to just anything or anyone. It means listening to the right people on right things. The only way to do that is by asking the right questions, observing tone of voice, and reading body language. Never accept one perspective. Always obtain the viewpoints of others, review data and reports, read books, etc. The best way to learn is to get out from behind the desk, walk around, see things from others’ vantage point, and talk with people directly. The goal is to get “real truth” or close to real truth as possible. The more knowledge you have, the better equipped you will be in making the right decisions.
- Be patient – the worst thing you can do is rush to judgement on something. Leaders sometimes put themselves into a position where they feel the need to make an instant decision based on a perceived urgency. Most of the time, the urgency is really not an urgency and getting things “off your plate” as quickly as possible is not the objective. The goal is to better understand by simplifying problems down to the root level, formulating options, and selecting the best choice that is in the long-term interest of the organization. That typically takes some time. In doing so, you may find the original problem is the not the actual problem at all. If you rush to judgement in the beginning of that process, you could end up making the wrong decision on the wrong problem that could have catastrophic effects.
- Validate – in business there is an ole saying, “Trust, but verify.” Before you render a judgement on something important, it is always helpful to understand the broader scope of what is going on in the world as it compares to your organization. Who else does what you do and how are they doing things? Is that better or worse? What are the industry standards and benchmarks? Who are the global experts and what are their opinions? Review blogs, articles, videos, etc. Connect with industry-wide associations, leaders, and frontrunners. Chances are, you are not the only group in the world doing what you are doing and someone else may have already solved the problem.
- Mitigate – the #1 thing that gets in the way to good judgement is distractions. The leader’s primary responsibility is to “cut through the noise” and understand the risks involved. Knowing the gravity of a situation, the related facts, and level of risk associated is critical in shaping the type of decision required. Proactively identifying threats and implementing mitigation tactics will prevent surprises and allow you to not make decisions in duress, which helps build good judgement habits.
- Cultivate – create a culture of trust where people feel safe to openly discuss challenges without fear of reprisal. When the smartest “go-to” people are quiet, you are not far from a major issue erupting. Adopt an environment of continuous improvement where the organization is routinely reviewing lessons learned on projects, initiatives, and big decisions being made. When everyone on the team has that mindset, it minimizes gaps and bolsters confidence in decision making that elevates the organization to a higher level.
Leaders need to possess many qualities in order to be successful, but underlying them all, is good judgment. Those with ambition, but no judgment, run out of money. Those with passion and charisma, but no judgment, lead their followers in the wrong direction. By adopting the above five principles, you will advance your judgement abilities, make higher quality decisions, and realize more success than ever imagined.