decisionsI have felt all my life that good judgment is a critically important skill for any person to have, but especially so for those in leadership positions.  Good judgment is such an important attribute that it is often listed first by employers as required qualities of job applicants.

We can easily name examples of bad judgment:  drug use, lax financial management, questionable choice of friends and so on.  And bad judgment usually leads to bad outcomes.

In business, the success or failure of the organization hinges on judgments made at all levels.  Poor judgment has led to some epic failures over the years.  For instance, how about these memorable judgment calls:

“Everything that can be invented has been invented,” said Charles H. Duell, commissioner of U.S. Patent Office in 1899.

“Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau,” said Irving Fisher, professor of economics at Yale University in 1929.

“I’m just glad it’ll be Clark Gable who’s falling on his face and not Gary Cooper,” said Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in “Gone With The Wind.”

“We don’t like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out,” said an executive at Decca Recording Company in rejecting The Beatles in 1962.

So what is good judgment?

That’s a tough question, but let me try.  Good judgment is the ability to make the best decision possible based on the information you have, without being swayed by others or predetermined ideas.

What kind of a decision-maker are you?  If you don’t know, you should take a few minutes to contemplate the question, because once you become aware of how you make (or don’t make) decisions, you will be more apt to make wiser choices in the future.

Most people have a way of handling decision-making, which mainly fall into these three common approaches:

  • Snap decision-makers.  Often people rely on gut instincts when they make quick decisions.  While this can work well for some people, it’s not always the best way for others.  This is because some snap decision-makers make choices based on fear or discomfort with the decision-making process.  They just want to get the whole thing over with, so they choose quickly without weighing options and without relying on trusted instincts.  Attention should be focused on whether you are making your decisions quickly for good or bad reasons.
  • Serious option-weigher.  While people who make decisions this way are often admired for the careful attention they give to the process, beware of those who practice serious option-weighing to a debilitating extreme.  These decision-makers put so much time into weighing every detail of every option that they often get lost along the way – and find it difficult to ever come up with a decision they are happy with.  Serious consideration is a good thing in most cases, but be careful not to waste time and energy to unnecessary details.
  • The flip-flopper.  This might seem like the person has weighed each option and made a firm decision, but often after a few minutes, days or even weeks the person shifts his or her thinking entirely on the matter.  These decision-makers usually have a problem with committing themself to the possible outcomes of their decisions, so fear drives them to change in quick succession.

In a piece called “Decision making for giants and elves” on the Practical Success Solutions Web site, Malcolm Harvey recommends a four-step process in order to avoid making poorly thought out or ego-based decisions.  Here they are:

  1. Make a decision.  You have to face that in decision-making there are consequences – and then make the decision to face those consequences.
  2. Make your own decisions.  Don’t go to others to make your decisions for you.  Take responsibility for what you decide.
  3. Work toward fruition.  Once you’ve made your decision, then work tirelessly toward the end you would like to see.  Focus on detail and practice patience.
  4. Stick with it.  Don’t let your doubts torment you.  You’ve made your decision; you’ve taken action and responsibility.  You will likely make mistakes along the way.  When you do, pick yourself up, dust yourself off and reassess the situation.


Mackay’s Moral:  Mark Twain said, “Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment.”

About the author Harvey Mackay

Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.

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