One of the critical skills of senior leaders is to make good decisions. And by good decisions, I mean decisions that are based upon good judgment (which will be defined later!). Business case studies are filled with decision-making failures by otherwise smart people, that have led to disastrous, widespread human and monetary consequences. Luckily, my failures in judgment have never had widespread impact like that! I bet many of you take comfort in that as well.
That said, senior leaders I work with have critical decisions to make. Decisions that must be made even if there is no single, right one. Decisions that must be made even if all available options result in some level of pain. (There will certainly be goodness too, but that is harder to keep in mind amidst the painful implications.) Even if some important stakeholder groups are happy and others are unhappy, regardless of what is decided. Even when there are long- and short-term financial implications, especially when short term pain leads to long term gain.
What is absolutely true is that some gain and some lose when leaders make critical decisions. While leaders certainly possess data and facts that support their decisions, there is likely to be data that does not. And then, there are always unknowns and the need to make predictions. Senior leaders must own these decisions, too. They will be held accountable by others, even if they received lots of input and support (at least before the decision!).
For this reason, assuring that all leaders (and ideally all employees!) have good judgment is critical for business success. And what is good judgment? It depends on a lot of factors. One factor is our own personality characteristics and the amount of self-awareness we possess. How much risk is comfortable for us? How much data is “enough” before a decision can be made? How much of my ego is involved? How much am I driven to be the smartest in the room and to be right? How much do I consider other people and their perspectives vs objective data? How confident and resilient am I to the stress of making these decisions and owning the consequences? All of these characteristics impact the quality of decisions because they impact how each of us looks at the world and how we decide what to do. Anais Nin once said, “We don’t see the world as it is, we see it as we are.” There are no truer words!
The other category of what makes up good judgment has to do with our level of critical reasoning ability. Much research supports that critical reasoning ability is the single most important correlate to better job performance. Here are the behavioral differences you are likely to see between two individuals:
Strong critical reasoners:
- Separate fact from fiction. They do not believe everything they think.
- They question assumptions and are aware of the assumptions they and others make.
- They examine information from the points of view of others, even those who are very different and have very different lives from them.
- They suspend judgment until they have systematically walked through arguments and information.
- They recognize and seek quality evidence vs personal belief based on one’s own experiences.
- They recognize how emotions (e.g. discomfort with conflict) can impact decision making.
- They draw conclusions based on all evidence and do not draw conclusions that go beyond that evidence.
Those who are not strong critical reasoners tend NOT to do the above – they do the opposite. So, given a choice, who would you hire for a critical leadership position?
Like many of our clients, you’d likely choose someone stronger in critical reasoning and one who is more self-aware. Granted, not all business decisions are ONLY based upon facts and objective analysis. We all know the stories of someone who trusted their beliefs and intuition in the face of objective evidence (and other’s opinions) that they were crazy—at first. And then their decision turned out to be a good one. That said, companies still want senior leaders who CAN think critically and know what that looks like in others.
The good news is critical reasoning can be predicted. It is a skill/ability that can be measured. And, The Bailey Group can help you measure it using the Watson-Glaser Critical Reasoning inventory. The WG is the gold standard of tools used to measure critical reasoning–interviews and resumes just can’t do it. Is this tool perfect? No. After all, critical reasoning cannot be seen or touched directly. But the impact of your critical leaders having it or not is very tangible to your business. We can help you understand the limits and cautions around how to use this data in a hiring decision. Give me a call or send me an email to learn more.