Figuring out what makes excellent judgment is an endless quest. There are six elements of effective judgment according to experts — learning, trust, experience, detachment, options, and delivery.
LEARNING SKILLS: LISTEN CAREFULLY, READ OBJECTIVELY
Good judgment converts learning into understanding. Many leaders make rash decisions because we don’t filter or critically evaluate information. Unfortunately, few of us digest the news we receive. What we don’t expect or want to hear gets filtered out, and this tendency does not improve with age. Another issue is information overload, particularly emails and documents.
TO IMPROVE: Active listening, which includes picking up on what isn’t spoken and reading body language, is a learnable talent. Be wary of your filters, as well as defensiveness or anger, which hinders other viewpoints. Look for inconsistencies in what’s written.
SEEK DIVERSITY, NOT VALIDATION, IF YOU WANT TO BUILD TRUST.
Leadership is not something we do alone. When making a choice, leaders should draw on the abilities and experiences of others. The quality of a leader’s judgment is determined by who these advisers are and how much trust they place in them. Don’t be a leader that hires employees who only repeat and validate their the leader’s ideas.
TO IMPROVE: Develop a network of reliable advisors who will tell you what you need to know, not what you want to hear. When hiring people, don’t use their performance as a surrogate for their judgment. Make judgment a clear consideration in performance evaluations and promotion decisions.
EXPERIENCE: MAKE IT APPLICABLE, BUT NOT TOO NARROW
When making decisions, leaders draw on their experience and the data. Experience provides context and aids in the identification of potential solutions and issues. But familiarity can be problematic if the experience is limited. Leaders with extensive experience in a specific subject may also get stuck in a rut, making decisions based on habit, complacency, or overconfidence.
TO IMPROVE: First, analyze how well you make decisions based on your personal experience. Begin by reviewing your main judgment choices to see what worked and what didn’t. Second, try to widen your experience, especially if you’re a young leader. Attempt to obtain positions in company operations like finance, sales, and production.
IDENTIFY AND THEN CHALLENGE BIASES WITH DETACHMENT
It’s vital to recognize your prejudices as you absorb information and draw on the diversity of knowledge. The ability to detach both mentally and emotionally is a critical component of sound judgment. However, mastering this skill is challenging.
TO IMPROVE: Recognize, clarify, and embrace other points of view. Encourage people to participate in role-playing and simulations, which challenge them to think about agendas other than their own and can serve as a haven for dissent. People that have strong judgment also ensure that they have tools to keep them aware of biases.
OPTIONS: ASK ABOUT THE SOLUTIONS AVAILABLE.
A leader is expected to pick between at least two options while making a decision. Smart leaders do not accept that those options are the only ones available. Many poor decisions were unavoidable in hindsight simply because options — and the potential of unintended consequences — were never explored. That is why a leader’s exercise of judgment must include a thorough examination of the solution set.
TO IMPROVE: Inquire about unclear information, and question your coworkers if you believe critical facts are missing. Consider the hazards of novel solutions, such as stress and overconfidence, and look for ways to manage them through piloting. Make sure you understand the rules and ethical issues so you can make better decisions. Finally, don’t be scared to think beyond the box.
DELIVERY: A FACTOR IN EXECUTION FEASIBILITY
You can make all the proper strategic decisions, but you must also execute them. When evaluating projects, wise leaders consider the risks of implementation and seek clarification from the project’s supporters. This is as true for all-sized judgments. When deciding on a route, a wise leader anticipates hazards and recognizes who is best suited to manage those risks.
TO IMPROVE: When evaluating a proposal, make sure that the person suggesting the investment has relevant experience. Encourage advocates to rethink their preconceptions by holding “premortem” talks in which participants strive to uncover what could go wrong if a proposal fails.
Many skills are required of leaders, but excellent judgment is at the core of them all. Your ultimate success may be determined by luck and forces beyond your control, but excellent judgment will stack the deck in your favor.