One could argue that the most important competency for a leader is having good judgment. Leaders make decisions, and making the right decisions requires good judgment. If you are searching for a leader to join your organization, good judgment is the quality to carefully evaluate in each candidate. Having good judgment trumps many other competencies and capabilities when leading a team to achieve results.
Julia Galef, the author of The Scout Mindset, examines the question of judgment from the perspective of how successful people make good choices and use good judgment. Her findings lead to the conclusion that people with good judgment approach decisions with what she calls a “scout mindset,” which is a fun way of saying they set their biases and preconceived thoughts about the issues aside. Galef defines a scout mindset as:
The drive not to make one idea win or another lose, but just to see what’s really there as honestly and accurately as you can, even if it's not pretty or convenient or pleasant.
Leaders with a scout mindset are genuinely curious and want to understand all sides of an issue before deciding. While this may seem like a simple concept, it’s quite difficult for us to avoid having an opinion or a bias when we address an issue. In addition, people with a scout mindset are open to what their findings and questions uncover versus simply trying to validate what they already believe. Galef calls that a soldier’s mindset, which is our motivation to defend our beliefs against any evidence or arguments that might threaten them.
Qualities of Leaders with Good Judgment
Can good judgment be developed in a leader? The short answer is yes, but it’s difficult. If a leader has a strong personality and is opinionated, that leader is going to require the most development. Leaders who are developing their judgment need to start by examining their own personal values. Specifically, they need to be willing to:
1. Deeply understand the issue.
Leaders who have poor judgment depend on preconceived ideas of what is happening. This is often disguised as using their experience to decide about a current situation. Leaders with good judgment are genuinely curious and explore the issue until they have a deep understanding. They have a scout mindset!
2. Be open to the facts and honestly evaluate them.
Leaders with a scout mindset don’t try to explain away the data or show how it validates what they already believe. They ask lots of questions and explore the data from different perspectives.
3. Be decisive and stand behind their decisions.
After considering all sides of an issue and selecting the best choice based on the data, leaders with a scout mindset make the decision and then stand behind it. That doesn’t mean they may not change it if they get additional information, but if they have done their due diligence, they are decisive and stand by their decisions. Abraham Lincoln once said, “Be sure to put your feet in the right place, and then stand firm.”
Developing good judgment starts with a scout mindset and then after careful analysis making the decision based on what the data or information shows. Leaders with a scout mindset avoid explaining away the data or trying to make it fit their perspective. Then after understanding all sides of the issue, they are decisive and stand by their decisions. Sometimes simply deciding is more important than which decision a leader makes. In the end, good judgment is a process that requires an open mind and discipline to base decisions on facts rather than opinions.
Check out this TED Talk of Julia Galef discussing the scout mindset:
Continue the discussion
Want to hear more or share your own views on helping leaders cultivate the skills needed to exercise good judgment? Join our Management and Leadership Round Table on Monday, November 29!