Using Good Judgment


I was shopping in a department store recently when I noticed a sign posted next to the employee lounge that read, “Use your good judgment in all situations. There are no additional rules.”

Today there is no shortage of individuals accusing each other of using bad judgment, whether in politics, economics, human services, or on the sports field. As leaders, it is important that we accomplish things, achieve results, and we all know that this is done with other people. It is highly unlikely that we will achieve great things by ourselves, and all of this involves judgment.

To do what’s right is one of the fundamental requirements of sound leadership. The question is then asked, “How do you know if you’re about to take the right or correct action, and do the right thing?” Knowing the right thing to do requires judgment.

Some years ago, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis defined judgment as, “…the essence of effective leadership. It is a contextually informed decision-making process encompassing three domains: 1. People, 2. Strategy and 3. Crisis.

“With good judgment, little else matters. Without good judgment, nothing else matters.”

Now that it is football season, examples of good judgment are readily available, whether at the stadium or viewing a game at home—and so are examples of bad judgment. For instance, players not going out of bounds to stop the clock are guilty of bad judgment. Coaches not managing their timeouts during a game is another. So is choosing “not to go for it” on the 4th down when punting is not an option, and deciding instead to try a nearly impossible 70-yard field goal.

The interesting thing about judgment is how often it is tied to people and managing relationships, which leads to the first consideration.

  1. People Judgment
    It is my thought that this may be the most difficult domain since it involves who is hired, promoted, disciplined, laid off or even terminated. It also involves task assignment and delegation. Leaders with good people judgment skills are vital to organizational success.
  2. Strategy Judgment
    This domain not only encompasses the financial realm and budgeting, but also organizational design, product development, staff deployment, timing decisions and matters of the business environment. Strategy in this context emphasizes the future over the present.
  3. Crisis Judgment
    The emphasis in this context is the judgment required in difficult times or dangerous moments. This could include natural disasters, pandemics, loss of funding, severe staffing shortages, and other crises. What distinguishes this domain is the need to make a time-pressured response.

Good judgment involves how you think as much as what you know. It involves intelligence, solid values, the ability to gather information as well as to process it. It also includes having enough birthdays—that is, relevant experience to understand and deal with the situation at hand. Good judgment is gained through reading, educational pursuits and dialogue with others. In fact, good judgment is always evolving.

So as Davy Crockett has said, “Be sure you’re right, then go ahead!”



Proverbs 11:25

A generous person will prosper,

whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.


Can't Not Do

The First Two Rules of Leadership

David Cottrell (John Wiley & Sons, 2016)


David Cottrell’s The First Two Rules of Leadership is a practical, easy to read leadership book. For many of you, it will serve as a refresher course on organizational leadership. Cottrell, the CEO of the Cornerstone Leadership Institute, is primarily known for his best-selling book Monday Morning Leadership, which I highly recommend.

When reading such books, my mind takes me back to C.S. Lewis’ cogent insight that suggests that we often need to be reminded more than we need to be instructed.

The author divides the book into two parts, Don’t be Stupid and Don’t be a Jerk, topics that essentially address our thinking and how we manage our feelings. Don’t be Stupid covers topics, such as hiring smart, coaching smart, subordinate relationships, the importance of staff unity and harmony, being organized, staying on course, and the value of integrity.

Don’t be a Jerk is essentially about interpersonal leadership. Topics included in this discussion are the importance of listening, the merits of decisiveness, and the fact that sharing the “why of things” trades confusion for clarity. The last three chapters deal with the importance of encouragement, the need to confront complacency, and lastly the rewards of leading with confidence and the critical nature of our attitudes.

As mentioned previously, Cottrell discusses a variety of familiar leadership challenges and dilemmas, but in many instances adds a fresh insight or additional perspective. I appreciated his self-quiz for helping leaders understand and determine the right thing to do.

  1. Is it legal, moral and ethical?
  2. Are my actions in sync with my personal and organizational values?
  3. How would I feel if this decision were shared in the news?
  4. Would it be perfectly okay if someone else made the same decision and it affected me?
  5. Am I hiding something? If so, why?

He also provides interesting insights into handling conflict, which is identified as the “1-10-100 rule.” The essence of the rule is that the longer you ignore or don’t address conflict, the “more expensive and time consuming it will be to fix.”

For example, a conflict between two staff members, if resolved quickly and appropriately, equals one unit of time and money. The same problem, if it continues, spreads and is not addressed, may take 10 units of time, money and resources. Finally, if the conflict/problem spreads throughout the department or organization, it may require 100 units of time, money and resources to resolve. As he says quite simply, “Don’t allow a mole hill to grow into a mountain.”

I also resonated with his insights regarding organizational climate. “In every workgroup, there exists a climate—positive or negative. Your role is to continually adjust the temperature to provide your team with the most productive climate in which they can grow. Just as managing the temperature in a greenhouse provides plants the right environment in which to grow, you control the thermostat for your team.”

The additional insight is that temperatures can change or fluctuate frequently within a team, department or company. As leaders, we must be aware of this and take necessary action to address any extremes. Finally, we must recognize that we as leaders also affect the temperature primarily as a result of what we do and don’t do.

Here’s one last memorable quote from the book. “Something can be done and there is something I can do.” Think about it.

Until next time,

Art Dykstra

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