Blog Post

Credentials? Nah. Judgment is what counts.

For your company’s prospects, Marc Andreessen says “the market matters most” — more than product, team, and even b-plan.

For your prospects as a leader, a terrific Op-Ed in Thursday’s Wall Street Journal illuminates the reasons why personal judgment trumps every other criterion — even experience.

“Leadership is, at its marrow, the chronicle of judgment calls,” write the authors, two business school professors, Warren Bennis (University of Southern California) and Noel Tichy (University of Michigan).

It begins as a comparison of presidential candidates Hilary Clinton (cast as experienced) and Barak Obama (not so experienced), but the thesis is even more relevant to business leaders — especially young founders who likely have ‘less experience’ and, therefore, must rely on their judgment to succeed.

The piece is behind the pay wall (Rupert, where art thou?), so here are its key points.

With good judgment, little else matters. Without it, nothing else matters. Take any leader, a U.S.president, a Fortune 100 CEO, a big-league coach, wartime general, you name it. Chances are you remember them for their best and worst calls … [Kennedy: Cuban Missle Crisis; Nixon Watergate.]

We are not discounting the importance of experience. Seminal and appropriate experiences must be drawn on and understood before judgment can be informed. But experience is no guarantee of good judgment.

In fact, there are numerous times when past experiences can prevent good judgments … generals tend to fight the last war, refusing to new realities, almost always with disastrous consequences.

We need to understand what Zen Buddhists call the “beginners mind,” which recognizes the value of fresh insight unfettered by experience. In this more contemporary view, the compelling idea is the novel one.

Judgment isn’t quite an unnatural act, but also doesn’t come naturally. We’re not sure how to teach it. (We know it can be learned.) Wisely processed experience, reflection, valid sources of timely information, an openness to the unbidden and character are critical components…

Professors Bennis and Tichy have also written a book together, Judgment: How Winning leaders Make Great Calls I plan to pick it up.

3 Responses to “Credentials? Nah. Judgment is what counts.”

  1. I teach Global Issues at a local college and I’ve been telling my students that we do a good job of mastering all the technical requirements of our jobs but fail when we do business internationally. We go into the international market-place with all the organizational staretegies, marketing strategies and business knowledge that our business book market has done so well in stocking our shelves with. But when we arrive abroad, we find that we lack the judgement to be able to handle other cultures wisely. Small wonder that China, Japan and many other nations are ruling the international marketplace. We have the credentials but we lack the judgement.