At Defining Moments, Good Judgement Is Good For Business

April 14, 2020

By Adam Chapman, EyeForPharma on Mar 21, 2019

Complexity is the defining business and leadership challenge of our time. But it has never felt more urgent than this moment, with the coronavirus upending life and business as we know it. Governments are scrambling to mitigate the effects of the outbreak, and business leaders are rushing to protect their people, their customers, and their companies. For the next few weeks, we’ll be drawing on our deep knowledge base about what it takes to lead through the most complex and confounding problems, to offer you insights and advice about how to keep a steady hand on the wheel during the crisis, and how to guide your organization in its transition back to normalcy once the crisis winds down.

We have been studying complexity and helping leaders navigate it for nearly 20 years. While this crisis is absolutely unprecedented, all complex challenges – including this one – are best managed when you understand specific underlying characteristics they all exhibit, and tried-and-true ways to approach them. Today: How to help your teams exercise great judgement so they’re not always relying on yours.

Female basketball coach teaching a group of young players

Imagine you could assign your team any big challenge and count on them to gather and sift through the relevant facts, interpret the evidence, form a shared opinion, make sound choices, and genuinely commit to the right actions, every time. What would this “dream team” unlock for you if you could count on their great judgement to radically transform the efficiency, effectiveness, quality and speed of your organization’s decision-making? How valuable would they be to you right now, when a once-in-a-lifetime crisis has completely undermined your best laid plans and strategies?

In The Elements of Good Judgement, Sir Andrew Likierman (HBR) defines judgement as “the ability to combine personal qualities with relevant knowledge and experience to form opinions and make decisions”. He then digs into the characteristics of leaders with good judgement and explains six elements of good judgement:

  1. Learning: Listen Attentively, Read Critically
  2. Trust: Seek Diversity, Not Validation
  3. Experience: Make It Relevant but Not Narrow
  4. Detachment: Identify, and Then Challenge, Biases
  5. Options: Question the Solution Set Offered
  6. Delivery: Factor in the Feasibility of Execution


In order to navigate complex challenges, it’s not enough for you, as the leader, to have good judgment. You need your entire team to practice good judgement. So let’s explore how you can cultivate these six traits among your team.

1. Learning: Listen Attentively, Read Critically

Like individuals with good judgement, team members must learn how to listen to each other better and turn their shared knowledge into shared understanding. They need to draw ideas, information, insights (and so on) out of each other actively. They must deliberate openly and honestly with each other, listen attentively, and welcome critique and debate. It’s critical to welcome all perspectives, not just the ones that support their position.

2. Trust: Seek Diversity, Not Validation

For teams to exercise good judgement, they must include individuals whose skills and experiences are diverse. As Likierman says, “Don’t just bring people on board who echo and validate you. Cultivate sources of trusted advice: people who will tell you what you need to know rather than what you want to hear.” And, importantly, you need to put yourself on the team as an equal member – because you are part of the necessary diversity and need to share in the trust that’s built.

3. Experience: Make It Relevant but Not Narrow

To arrive at good judgement, teams need to include individuals who collectively bring a relevant breadth and depth of experiences. The more experience the group has, both with the organization and its challenges, the better its judgement will ultimately be. At the same time, the team should also include those with little experience (who can ask the naive questions that no one else will ask), and those with very different experiences (who will help to challenge the sacred cows).

4. Detachment: Identify, and Then Challenge, Biases

It’s crucial to recognize that each person has their own assumptions and biases that can prevent them from hearing each other and considering new ideas. Assign behavioral roles in conversations to force people out of their usual habits and out of their own heads. We use three roles - Member, Critic, and Observer. Members own the topic being discussed, and must listen to each other and collaborate on solutions. Critics are the devil’s advocates who will challenge ideas and force frank discussions. Observers don’t speak, but diligently listen.

Have multiple rounds of meetings for any key issue. This gives people the time and space to listen, to absorb others’ points of view, to incorporate new ideas while letting go of their beliefs. Ultimately, this repetition leads people to discover fresh insights and perspectives that they’ve co-created and aligned on together with their teammates.

5. Options: Question the Solution Set Offered

The previous step will help your team explore many possible options before putting forth their recommendations. But as the leader, it’s crucial that you create an environment where expectations and rules are clear, where people are not self-editing, where they can safely debate a wide range of possibilities, and where radical options are not only welcome, but actively sought. As a member of the team, you will have a direct impact on establishing the environment by role-modeling how you expect people to behave.

6. Delivery: Factor in the Feasibility of Execution

When working with teams to exercise judgement and develop an agreed-to course of action, feasibility of execution can’t be an afterthought and shouldn’t require a handoff to a separate execution team once decisions are made. Execution feasibility is baked into solutioning when the team includes not only those with authority, flair, creativity and imagination, but also those who will execute, who will lead execution, and who will be most directly impacted by the solution. By including the doers during the planning and deciding process, you greatly increase both the quality of the team’s judgement and the likelihood of strong execution.


Likierman says “sheer luck and factors beyond your control may determine your eventual success, but good judgment will stack the cards in your favor.” You can stack the cards for your teams by creating the conditions for good judgement:

  • Setting up the right teams, with the right mix of people, experiences, perspectives, functions, and stake;
  • Giving those teams clarity on the decision to be made or problem to be solved and the time and space to work together directly,to find best answers; and
  • Equipping them with a good process that enables them to identify and suspend their biases, listen to each other, debate, challenge, learn, explore a broad set of options (including radical ones), apply the feasibility-of-execution lens, and ultimately reach a shared understanding on what they judge to be the right decision and resulting course of action.

Rather than rendering you obsolete as their leader, the “dream teams” you create and nurture will elevate your game, become your secret weapon in terms of organizational leadership, and deliver the edge you need at those defining moments where ordinarily teams solely look to you for answers. Right now, in the midst of an unprecedented global pandemic when good judgement is more precious than ever and likely in short supply, don’t horde it within your leadership team; demand it from all your teams.

Original article post on Forbes on April 14, 2020

Back to all articles

join those in the know

Subscribe for all our latest Forbes articles, whitepapers, and more.

Thank you for subscribing to receive our latest insights via email. When we have news and information to share, we will reach out. In the meantime, you can explore some of our current content under the RESOURCES section here on our website. Enjoy!
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form