Elements of Good Judgment

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What is good judgment, how do we recognize it and how do we achieve it?  We’ll examine the six crucial factors that enable good judgment and what you can do to strengthen them in your business.

A decision must be made.  The facts have been assembled, and the arguments for and against the options spelled out, but no clear evidence supports any particular one.  Now people around the table turn to the CEO.  What they’re looking for is good judgment—an interpretation of the evidence that points to the right choice.

According to Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, the authors of Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, “Judgment—the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make decisions—is “the core of exemplary leadership”  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.

A lot of ink has been spilled in the effort to understand what good judgment consists of.  Some experts define it as an acquired instinct or “gut feeling” that somehow combines deep experience with analytic skills at an unconscious level to produce an insight or recognize a pattern that others overlook.  At a high level, this definition makes intuitive sense.  But as Sir Andrew Likierman explains in the January–February 2020 Harvard Business Review, “it is hard to move from understanding what judgment is to knowing how to acquire or even to recognize it.”

In an effort to meet that challenge, Likierman talked to CEOs in a range of companies, from some of the world’s largest right down to start-ups.  He approached leaders in the professions as well: senior partners at law and accountancy firms, generals, doctors, scientists, priests, and diplomats. 

Likierman asked them to share their observations of their own and other people’s exercise of judgment so that he could identify the skills and behaviors that collectively create the conditions for fresh insights and enable decision-makers to discern patterns that others miss.  He has also looked at the relevant...

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