Understanding Judgement as a Leadership Trait and 9 Practical Tips to get better

Let’s go down the memory lane when you first learnt riding a bicycle. You run around with the new cycle in the vicinity of your home and patiently try to ride. Sometimes, mom or dad holds you but at some point in time, you must learn to balance yourself. On one such day, after much bruised knees and all, you keep hopping on the pedals and at the exact moment, you make your first independent ride.  Now there’s no particular order of thoughts that you recall of that moment when your brain just felt right to hold the balance. But that doesn’t mean there were no calculations behind that decision. Your brain knew just what to do – it made its judgment before taking that decision.

Our brains are wired to make decisions based on judgment. It works much better than a super computer because it takes into account facts, information as well as visible clues like facial expressions and body language and tone of voice. Moreover, it also considers a person’s intention, past experiences and probable consequences before doing anything which no computer is able to do ever.

Making a judgment is not just assembling of information. No wonder then that there are times in everyone’s life when a person goes beyond what is obvious, flouts what the information and experiencestell him and makes a judgment completely contrary to rational thought. We all have known of that one investor who goes against conventional wisdom and advice and decides to invest in a startup that is bleeding losses. This is when his brain hints towards trusting his own judgment, his strong instinct that though the company may not be profitable now, it holds potential for a turnaround.

Business normally runs on such judgments that defy conventional wisdom.

Gut Feeling vs Judgement

Are they same? No. They are not.

Judgment is majorly based on calculations that the brain makes about the feasibility or its absence thereof. These calculations may be done within a second but do take into account several variables. Gut instinct on the other hand is plain gamble. You can never quite substantiate why you made a decision based on gut instinct. More often, people who claim to be adept at successful bids through gut instinct do make judgments based on certain variables, though they refuse to credit their brain for the same.

When can you trust your judgment?

In simple terms, the more your decisions turn up successful, the more you can trust your judgment that helped you decide. It has been proven that people who are good at judgment often have a keen eye for the minutiae. They observe better, listen carefully and ask questions in plenty. They know their strengths and weaknesses well and weigh them into their decisions through information gathering. All these traits help them gather more information that they can base their decision upon.

A Bain and Co. report a few years ago spoke about why companies like Apple, Netflix, Google and Dell are 40% more productive than the others.

  • That’s because they use the three ingredients of time, talent and energy more efficiently.
  • The report said that the top 16% of the employees of these companies accomplished by 10.30 a.m. Thursday what other company employees did till Saturday.
  • This compounded over decades to become more successful than other companies.
  • Add to it the freedom that these companies give their employees to make judgments rather than relying solely on processes.
  • This saves a good 25% of productivity that would otherwise have been lost to Organizational Drag.
  • Trusting employee judgment allows them to operate freely without being held back.

Developing Trustable Judgement Traits

Developing the ability of good judgment isn’t as difficult as it sounds. In fact, if done properly and in time, it is the hallmark of a great leader.

Most successful businessmen, artists, filmmakers, song writers and authors have this ability. Take for instance the makers of films like Avatar which was purely sci-fi and created in animation. Costing millions of dollars to make, these decisions have no proven precedents. Every once in a while comes a maverick who changes the way people think, behave and buy and the world says he has great judgment.

When Indian billionaire Mukesh Ambani decided to launch Jio, the new telecommunication company, he was diverting from his core business and entering into shark infested waters. The telecom sector was full of players in India back then. What Ambani did differently is to make his service completely free for a limited time. That decision was a disruptive game changer but fraught with risk. Jio went on to grab mammoth business in recent years and Ambani made huge profit by divesting his stake in it last year in the heat of the pandemic induced lockdown. What would have prompted him to take this decision would have been a classic example of trusting your own judgment.

Not everyone can afford to take bets in the same quantum, however it is possible to strengthen your judgment by doing the following practical actions:

  1. By being a good listener. Listen carefully and speak only when it’s absolutely necessary
  2. Observe around. A lot can be gauged by mere observation. Those subtle hints that skip a common man’s eye may catch the eye of the one who observes carefully.
  3. Ask questions. Get as much information as you can from as many sources possible
  4. Do not let personal biases creep into your decisions.
  5. Empower people to use their judgment
  6. March ahead with an eye on the past. Learning from past mistakes of your own and that of others serve good lessons
  7. Learn to separate the grain from the chaff; all the news, data, information being bombarded upon you from all sources doesn’t necessarily make sense.
  8. Foster diversity at work place. Don’t surround yourself with people who tow your line all the time. Dissent is the key to bring out the best in people of diverse backgrounds.

At a time when leaders have to make decisions all the time, many times at short notices, where they may or not be guided by solid data and information, they have to increasingly rely on their judgment. Trusting your judgment doesn’t mean you toss a coin and accept what comes. It’s all about developing your brain to become sharper.

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