The best kinds of organizations to be a part of are winning organizations, ones that consistently meet or exceed lofty goals and have a confidence about them driven by everyone feeling they’re working on a team of champions. The leader, of course, is the heartbeat of such an organization, and within that, it’s that leader’s ability to consistently make good decisions that makes that heart beat.
Nothing leads more directly to better results than better decisions, and nothing aids better decisions better than good judgment. That’s why Harvard Business Review’s January-February 2020 issue caught my eye, because in it, London Business School professor (and former dean of LBS) Sir Andrew Likierman, makes his case for the core traits of good judgment.
I’ll summarize the most important elements and add my own perspective, having worked for some prolific decision makers at a high level at Procter & Gamble (and being a thirty-year student of developing good business judgment).
1. Listen carefully and be critical of everything you read.
I’ve seen many leaders take new information and run straight out the window with it. Sometimes because they were in a hurry to make the decision, valuing speed above all else, other times because information was overwhelming them and just making the call was the easiest way out, many times because they just aren’t skeptical enough and analytical enough about what’s being presented to them.
Active listening is vital here, as is paying attention to the things not being said/written. Additionally, good judgment comes from keeping in mind the motivations behind the position taken or argument presented and not getting overly swayed by emotion. Finally on this front, spotting discrepancies and inconsistencies in data, questioning data sources, and simply knowing your business better than anyone else, is vital.
2. Seek to contradict your opinion, not validate it.
You’ll have no issue finding people to agree with you. And that’s even before you get to the bootlickers who do it out of misguided habit and desire to curry favor. Likierman’s advice is spot-on here; build a network of people you can turn to for trusted advice, ones not afraid to tell you you’re wrong or that can confirm you’re right in credible fashion based on their experience, not excitement to agree.
3. Beware the pitfall of familiarity.
Being in something for too long, with too much knowledge, can be just as dangerous as helpful. Sometimes just because you’ve “been there, done that” doesn’t mean being there and doing it again with nuanced learning applied can’t work. We’re also creatures of habit. Leaders especially so, and especially so when they’re overwhelmed with so many responsibilities. It can be easiest to just default to what you know and ride that train. This sentiment confuses good judgment with habit, and complacency and overconfidence replace curiosity and creativity.
So keep expanding your experience base and recognize when you’re too close to make objective calls.
4. Know your biases, and stop them cold.
Here’s where emotional intelligence comes in and acceptance and understanding of multiple points of views plays the remedy. I’ve been a part of many competitive analysis teams designed to combat bias. We’d divide up into teams representing many different work functions, and even competitors, and attack a decision from an unbiased point of view (or at least a differently biased one). It’s a powerful way to strengthen the ultimate quality of the decision.
5. Ask “What’s the third, better option?”
I’ve heard Procter & Gamble CEO David Taylor ask this question many times. Leaders can all too easily get in the habit of asking for a recommendation, getting two options, and having to play off the pros and cons of both. And that’s it.
Good judgment demands when a clear best choice doesn’t present itself that you keep pushing for other options (up to a point). Watch out for efforts to oversell you on an option (those with a personal stake in a decision can skew the facts), question assumptions, challenge the weight each variable is given, and in general employ healthy skepticism.
6. How executable is it?
Great strategies and ideas aren’t if you can’t execute them. So factor in the feasibility of what it takes to bring your decision to fruition. Talk with the executors themselves, the people on the front lines (likely levels below you) to see how grounded you are in reality.
So use good judgment and practice what you read here to improve your own.