3 Components of Judgment: Are You Using All of Them?

Good Judgment Empowers Leadership Teams — Here’s How to Use Information, Experience & Gut Feel when Making Decisions

“You weren’t promoted for your technical skills. You were promoted for your judgment.” 

That’s what my boss told me shortly after my promotion into a senior management position. I never forgot her comment, because I was genuinely puzzled. I thought my technical knowledge was essential for the role, but she was telling me that judgment was a far more important skill for a manager. It stands to reason that good judgment empowers leadership teams to make better decisions. I wondered, what did it really mean to use my judgment? 

By definition, if a decision requires judgment then it must not be cut and dried. It’s likely that there are ambiguities, a lack of data, and no clear right/wrong answer. How does one use judgment in those situations? 

I’m sure there’s a text-book answer somewhere. But, rather than quote that, I’d like to share my observations which are similar to leaders I have interviewed over the last few years. They, like me, cite three components of good judgment:

  1. Information.
    Gather all the information reasonably obtainable in the timeframe available. However, it’s highly likely that there will be information missing. Sometimes you can spare the time and resources to gather more data, but sometimes you can’t. You must do the best you can with the information you have. You’ve now entered the realm of judgment
  2. Experience.
    Experience is a powerful teacher. Your brain stores experiences for later reference. When presented with a new situation, the brain seeks to match it with something previously encountered, which helps you to feel more comfortable making a decision. This is why people with more years of experience or many diverse experiences may find it easier making a judgment call. They have more experiences to draw upon. However, the wise decision-maker takes time to compare their past experience with the current situation. Are there enough similarities for the past experience to be valid for the future? Sometimes yes and many times no. Once again, it’s a judgment call when to trust your experience. 
  3. Gut Feel.
    The experienced leader learns to listen to his/her gut. That little nagging feeling is part of the brain’s wisdom that is buried more deeply than language. The internal nudge may signal either that something is amiss and needs to be reconsidered, or that one answer may feel more appropriate than another. Truth be told, I’m a big believer in that little voice inside. But I am NOT a big believer of “go with your gut” in all cases. Instead, hear the voice inside and query it to understand why it feels comfortable or not. Treat that information as another input into the decision. Frequently, it is the quiet feeling that is the swing vote for a decision. 

Information, experience, and gut feel. Those, for me, have been the powerful components that go into judgment. What do you think?

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