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Self-insight for success > Stories and reflections > Good Judgement Versus Strong Smarts

Good Judgement Versus Strong Smarts

By Galia Barhava-Monteith

Is having good judgement more important than being ‘smart’?

How often do you reflect on your own judgement?  Does it ever occur to you to do this? I do, and often.

You see, I now believe that one of the most powerful secrets to many people’s success, both men and women, is simply having good judgement.  Having worked with, and coached tens if not close to a hundred people, probably THE common theme of those who have been successful in the long term and in the most sustainable manner has been demonstrating good judgement throughout their career and personal lives.

What is Judgement?

According to it is the ability to judge, make a decision, or form an opinion objectively, authoritatively, and wisely, especially in matters affecting action; good sense; discretion. To me, judgement is about the ability to take into account multiple perspectives and factor in multiple possible scenarios and outcomes.

It is also about the ability to distinguish the key factors and issues from the obvious or attention-grabbing ones – this is something that can be really hard to do when you are in the thick of it but being able to do precisely this means that you will have made the right decision in the LONG TERM.

I am emphasising this point, as I think that it is important to think about one’s career from a long term perspective.  Not all careers are sustainable, and, certainly not all successes are.  As we live increasingly longer and many of us stay in paid employment for far longer than our parents did, this is something worth reflecting on.

Do Smart People Automatically Have Good Judgement?

My resounding answer is absolutely not!  I have known some incredibly ‘smart’ men and women, as measured by their IQ and the ability to solve crosswords and Sudoku puzzles, who have demonstrated particularly bad judgement.  They became distracted by factors such as how others would view them and didn’t really think through the implications of their decisions. They might have said yes to things because of the status or glamour attached to them, which in the long run ended up reflecting badly on them.

Sadly, and often because they saw themselves as smart, they wouldn’t listen to people who might have been less smart but who had better judgement.

House Buying

Many years ago when my husband and I bought our first house, we decided to get an old brick and tile ex-state house in a suburb that was close to the city but not at all fashionable at the time. We were young, so we turned to older friends and acquaintances, who were successful professionals and much more experienced than we were, for advice.  A number of them thought that we would be too busy at work to look after a big section and that the house was quite old; they suggested that instead we should really consider one of the brand new town houses being built elsewhere in the city.

We considered their opinions, but my husband thought that given the house had been around for 40 years without any major issues or leaks we shouldn’t have issues.  I thought that buying a big section so close to Auckland’s CBD could only be a good thing in the long run.  So … in the end, we didn’t listen to our elders and trusted our own judgement.

Twelve years later, new houses in our suburb are highly sought and those town houses have had major leaky building issues.  So that was a close one!

Where Are They Now?

A really interesting exercise I recommend is to think back ten or fifteen years to remember where you thought your various friends or colleagues would end up and then contrast it with where they actually are now.  When I did this, what distinguished those who had interesting, rewarding and challenging careers from those those who didn’t is that the latter group made some really poor calls, or in other words, exercised bad judgement.

Judgement is about paying attention and thinking flexibly and reflectively.  It is about seeking the right people’s perspective and carefully listening to them, while being quite clear on where you stand.  Interestingly, people of good judgement are quite happy changing their minds when circumstances and evidence around them change.  They don’t just bulldoze on regardless once their mind is set, ignoring the evidence.

Can You Cultivate Good Judgement?

I think you absolutely can.  It is a skill and a discipline.  The first part is to actually become aware of your judgement, look critically at decisions you’ve made and ask yourself if you have exercised good judgement.  This is really hard because no one wants to think they may have made some not-so-smart calls!

The other part is making sure you have people in your life that have exercised good judgement and seek their views.  It is helpful to ask those people to talk through their own thinking processes and learn by listening to them.

You see, in my view, by definition, professionals are most likely to all be smart people.  We wouldn’t be where we are if we weren’t smart – but it’s the ability to make the right decisions and the right calls that distinguishes those who have really achieved their potential from those who sadly haven’t… those people who leave you thinking, how the hell did they end up there…doing that…?

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