Written by: Adam Lloyd
For the sake of another cliché sports analogy, a team depends on its coach to draw up a last second game-winning play. It’s a judgement call and decision the coach and team will have to live with, win or lose. In companies, the CEO is the “coach” and makes game altering decisions every day. But how can we predict who will make the right calls and lead us to victory? It’s not easy.
Judgement is already tricky enough to gauge with incoming and current leaders, and to add to it, it’s often overlooked as a measurement. Take a look at the attractive leadership attributes at the moment as an example… There is a mass hysteria to transform, disrupt, innovate and acquire change agents. As businesses, and the world in general, continue to travel and compete at light speed, evolution has become a constant for companies that are meeting immediate consumer demands, satisfaction of stakeholders and appealing to a growing millennial workforce that expects instantaneous communication and adaptation. It’s why we’re hearing these “it” words of the moment, that may never go away. Transformational change is necessary, if you can’t adapt, you often collapse. But is it the top quality we should be looking for in a CEO?
To revisit the coach concept, a sports team works to the strengths of its players and changes the game plan within reason and ability to execute. If not, the team needs to recruit different athletes. Simple as that. Companies aren’t that different in theory, and innovation isn’t a trend or even a new concept. It is important, however, for us to remember that trends are trends for a reason, they are not absolute or forever, and what we’re talking about in this case is rapid change.
To be clear, change is good and is necessary, but when it overshadows other competencies, we lose sight of the fact that ideas and outcomes built for longevity [not just quick change], all come back to substance at the end of the day. Yes, you can be a creative CEO and full of substance, but in terms of leadership – there is nothing more substantial than sound judgement. Leaders face judgement calls every day, from trivial decisions to others directly related to the bottom line, and they all impact an ecosystem of employees, customers, family members, investors and so on… Their judgement defines the direction of the organization they lead, for better or worse, and everyone committed to the cause. As we seek out leadership attributes that will make the right calls in tough situations, judgement is a top priority but can also be a very tough one to identify. In efforts to secure sound judgement, during change, there are a few measures and indicators we can pay attention to in leaders.
How They’ve Handled Crisis
High stress situations reveal a lot about how executives handle themselves. Some thrive in these scenarios and others fall to immediate knee-jerk reactions. The process in which a CEO comes to a decision is as important as the outcome, when considering how they’ll handle themselves in future situations. Get familiar with how the executive operates under scrutiny, high pressure and catastrophic circumstances.
This can be a direct question that looks to specific examples, and again, pay attention the process, people and resources pulled in to make the judgement. Then learn how employees, customers and stakeholders responded. Don’t just look to a successful outcome, but understand if it was sustainable and well-received by those impacted.
Their Hiring Decisions
A more obvious gauge to a leader’s judgement is by looking to the people they have directly hired or approved of. You need to know if there was logic behind the decision-making that was consistent with the business vision and objectives. Also pay attention to “trusted” counterparts. There’s nothing wrong with having a consistent support cast, but when a CEO carries a management team with them out of habit, being owed, or comfort; this can be a real problem. It raises the question if they’re open to opposing viewpoints and opinions. If not, that’s a sign of poor judgement and also being resistant to change and perhaps tendencies of future leaders. A leader in any environment needs to be surrounded by great talent to succeed and if they have not gotten in correct in the past it could be devastating in the future.
Partnerships and Acquisitions
Part of growth in most organizations includes the channels of strategic partnerships and acquisitions. To determine good judgement here, look to the partnership opportunities a leader may have access to, in addition to the joint ventures they’ve initiated in the past.
Have their decisions led to industry disruptions and expansion into new markets or have they tied the corporate brand to parties that resulted in a negative outcome? It’s very important to understand what a leader values and expects from any potential partner, how this effects the organization and employees and also what the external market perception will be.
Judgement comes into play when creating the strategy to move an organization forward. What’s important to pay attention to is if the direction the company is headed, was derived from inclusive input from employees? Exercising good judgement does not mean coming to decisions solely, but rather collectively gathering feedback, information and sentiment from the people around you. Leaders with sound judgement combine multiple factors to reach decisions. In terms of their inner-ability, they draw their expertise, rationale and decisiveness. Combining inner strengths with a complete set of resources and information results in strong decision making and ultimately good judgement. Ask leaders where they see the competition, industry and buying habits headed? How does the organization align with their perception and what elements are necessary to achieve a vision that align with this direction?
This is pretty cut and dry. People eventually don’t follow leaders with poor judgement. Whether it comes to inner-office politics or market competition, there are a few things to look for in everyday decision making that will impact the buy-in of employees.
Are decisions made on impulse? Do you they create an environment of equal reward, attention and voicing of opinions? Does emotion succeed passion? Are decisions transparent as they impact the organization?
These are some of the questions to approach leaders with that will help determine if they will be received as credible in terms of their judgement. When looking to the past, if employees under them would join them again and previous bosses would rehire them, chances are they had a reliable track record of good judgement.
Going back to sports just one more time, we need to remember that up-tempo offenses and minimalistic shoes will come and go, but judgement from preparation to handling difficult situations will be the major factor in success. It’s not different for organizations, so choose your coach wisely.