!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD XHTML 1.0 Strict//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/xhtml1/DTD/xhtml1-strict.dtd"> Streamline Training & Documentation: Exercising Good Judgment

Monday, October 22, 2007

Exercising Good Judgment

Since the ability to exercise good judgment has always struck me as fundamental to professionalism and good leadership, I was especially interested in reading "Making Judgment Calls: The Ultimate Act of Leadership" in the October issue of the Harvard Business Review.

Though this article suffers from the all-too-common fault in business writing of claiming more novelty than its authors — Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, business professors at the University of Michigan and the University of Southern California, respectively — actually offer, it is well worth study for its straightforward presentation of the process of making good judgment calls.

Instead of going along with the dubious contrast Tichy and Bennis set up between the "traditional view" of leadership judgment and their own "process view," let me just cite their summary of the latter as a way of giving some of the flavor of their analysis. Tichy and Bennis argue that leadership judgment is:
  • a dynamic process that unfolds over time.

  • rational and analytic but also emotional, with considerable human drama.

  • responsive to variables some or all of which can be outside of the leader's domain, and/or which relate to the judgment call only indirectly.

  • guided by the leader, but influenced by many actors and by subsequent judgment calls.

  • top-down-up, i.e., execution influences how judgments are reshaped.

  • an open process in which mistakes are shared and learning is used to make adjustments.

  • encouraged at all levels, with the aim not only of achieving good results from particular decisions, but also of continously developing the capability of exercising good judgment throughout the organization.
In addition to the above outline of the characteristics of the judgment process, Tichy and Bennis provide a valuable description of the three phases of the process — preparation, making the judgment call itself, and execution. Within this discussion, Tichy and Bennis emphasize the importance of redo loops and leadership story lines.

Redo loops. There are three points in the judgment process at which the leader can backtrack to correct for errors or inadequacies in what has been done so far:
  • During the preparation phase, you circle back if you find you are having trouble mobilizing and aligning the organization to address the issue at hand. Most often, the backtracking involves doing a better job of framing the issue in a way that is both accurate and compelling.

  • Between the end of the preparation phase and the start of the decision phase, you may find it helpful to circle back to obtain further input from stakeholders.

  • Within the execution phase, you circle back to modify strategy and tactics whenever you learn something new that indicates a need to adjust.
Leadership story lines are what establish the context for judgment calls. As Tichy and Bennis define it, a story line
describes a company's identity and direction and contains three elements: an idea about how to make the organization successful; an articulation and reinforcement of the organization's values; and a strategy for generating the energy needed to accomplish its goals. When the need for a judgment arises, leaders can match the possible consequences of a decision against the story line to get a clear picture of what to do.
You can find some earlier comments on exercising good judgment in these previous posts.


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