May 3, 2012

By Jim Leverette

Successful leaders consistently choose the “most correct” path to follow. Does this require Solomon-like judgment to avert the situation? The short answer is “sometimes, but not always”. However, seasoned judgment is what helps successful leaders navigate through business challenges and turn them into opportunities and accomplishments. Successful leaders use a fact-based approach when evaluating the business challenge facing their company and determine the level of threat, as well as potential areas of opportunity that might be contained in the present adversity facing the company.

Successful leaders make sound and timely decisions and deal with conflict, confusion and second guessing across the organization before a problem becomes a crisis. Not all business decisions fall into the category of mission-critical; however, the really big decisions are always crucial – and are always made in the corner office. Successful leaders understand that and take immediate action to close all critical and serious gaps in effectiveness and profitability in order to turn around a negative impact the company may be experiencing. Successful leaders take nothing for granted and know that if they wish for their company to remain as one of the key players in the business sector, they must use their best judgment to quickly remedy the situation. Otherwise, rapidly changing market conditions – driven by extreme economic turbulence may threaten the company’s existence if sound judgment is not rendered in time!

Isn’t it interesting that much of life often comes at you in reverse order with the test coming before the lesson? Everyone has seen the TV game show Jeopardy — where the host reminds the contestants to always remember to answer in the form of a question. Here’s your first question as the new leader of the company – And the answer is:

• Change the strategy from “follower” to “matching the competition.”

• Improve existing distribution channels.

• Drive change and innovation across the value-chain of the organization.

• Leverage technology to better manage inventory and speed of product life cycle changes.

• Look for a strategic partner to merge with.

And you respond, “What are – the most correct solutions to the business challenge facing the company that will avert the probability of moving into a full-blown crisis situation?”

CORRECT for 200 points and control of the board!

It would nice if things actually worked that way, but they don’t’. The judgment required to make these decision is never easy. Faced with multiple competing priorities and each solution seemingly correct — “What is the best solution and most correct answer?” Is it one, some, none — or all of the above? In making these decisions fear and circumstances do not leave – they are constant companions when exercising judgment. Successful leaders understand that change is inevitable, but growth is optional. However, the most successful leaders recognize that growth opportunities almost always come disguised as business challenges, and bring with them areas of opportunity to capitalize on.

Here is one thought to consider on the essence of “Judgment” when hiring for a key leadership role:

What to look for – Successful leaders have all faced the possibility of failure and are not surprised the trials of change are many. Seasoned judgment understands that while some changes may hinder progress, others actually serve to facilitate growth. When have they exercised critical thinking and judgment to turn a business challenge into an accomplishment or avert a potential threat to their company?

What executive decisions have they been charged with making in the last 12-18 months? Look for a pattern of considering all viewpoints and inputs of relevant information that have bearing on the business challenge before they made their final decision. How did these decision work out? And did they have the courage to change their approach if warranted? With hindsight vision being 20/20, have them defend their reasoning and judgment behind the decisions made and the outcomes of those decisions in question.

What are the “positive and negative” impacts on the business that they typically assess? What counsel do they seek before deciding on the optimal course to take? How do they judge the costs, resources, timeframes and levels of complexity associated with implementing the solution, as well as the degree of difficulty if multiple solutions are employed together? Ask for an example of when they acted decisively to remedy a situation.

Listen and look for examples of when they had to rise above the doubt that invariably creeps into the thinking process when preparing to implement a change. People love progress, but hate change. How do they judge what is the appropriate speed and amount of change to introduce? What is the performance needle they watch to help them gage the effect on the people and the business? Look for instances where you share similar viewpoints and approaches to dealing with change. Listen and look for examples of when they dealt with a business challenge similar to the one facing your company. How did they evaluate the potential solutions and what strategy did they implement? What actions did they take and what were the outcomes?

In the final analysis, companies want top leaders to be able to move the organization forward while helping to reduce the discomfort and ambiguity of transition periods. Sound judgment is a requirement of being a successful leader.


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