ue bot icon

Judgment as A Virtue in Leadership

June 24, 2024

In the expansive realm of leadership and personal growth, discussions often revolve around various skills and attributes—communication, strategic thinking, emotional intelligence, and resilience. Yet, one critical element that frequently goes unnoticed is judgment. Judgment isn’t just a skill. It’s a virtue. It’s the key ingredient that transforms our journey from aimless wandering to purposeful progress toward our goals. It’s not merely about making decisions; it’s about making the right decisions at the right time for the right reasons.

Understanding Judgment

Judgment is far more complex than it appears. It involves forming opinions, assessing situations, and making decisions based on a sophisticated blend of values, knowledge, and life experiences. Jean-Jacques Rousseau wisely noted, “It is easy to judge. It is more difficult to understand.” This statement encapsulates the essence of good judgment—taking the time to understand a situation from all angles before deciding.

Personal bias, cultural norms, societal expectations, and prior experiences are just a few of the many factors that affect judgment. It ranges from informal assessments we make daily—like choosing what to eat for lunch or how to respond to a colleague’s email—to formal evaluations in professional settings, such as deciding on a major business strategy or evaluating an employee’s performance.

The consequences of our judgments can be far-reaching. Poor judgment can lead to discrimination, missed opportunities, or even catastrophic failures in business and personal life. Conversely, good judgment fosters positive social interactions, drives business success, and leads to personal fulfillment and growth.

The Virtue of Good Judgment

Judgment is a virtue because it involves using reason and wisdom to make sound decisions. Good judgment requires a clear understanding of our values, goals, and priorities and the ability to apply them effectively in different situations. This concept is echoed in religious texts like the Bible. Proverbs 3:21-23 (NIV) says:

“My son, do not let wisdom and understanding out of your sight, preserve sound judgment and discretion; they will be life for you, an ornament to grace your neck. Then you will go on your way in safety, and your foot will not stumble.”

This passage underscores that good judgment is essential for navigating life successfully. It suggests that judgment, coupled with wisdom and understanding, provides safety and guidance in life’s journey.

Philosophical Perspectives:

In philosophical terms, judgment can be seen as a practical manifestation of wisdom. It’s the application of knowledge, experience, and understanding to real-world situations. Good judgment allows us to navigate life’s complexities, make ethical decisions, and contribute positively to our communities and societies.

Aristotle:: Aristotle championed practical wisdom (phronesis), viewing judgment as the cornerstone of a virtuous life. He believed that to live ethically, we need to cultivate good judgment through experience and reflection. For Aristotle, practical wisdom was not just about knowing what is right, but about doing what is right in specific situations.

Immanuel Kant: Kant explored how judgment helps us make sense of the world in his “Critique of Judgment.” He emphasizes the importance of autonomy and rationality in making moral judgments. For Kant, good judgment involves acting according to universal moral laws that one can will to become a universal principle.

John Stuart Mill: Mill, in his work “Utilitarianism,” advocates for a consequentialist approach to judgment, where the rightness of actions is determined by their outcomes. Good judgment involves evaluating the consequences of actions to maximize overall happiness and minimize suffering.

Bertrand Russell: Russell emphasized that good judgment involves critical thinking, balancing skepticism with open-mindedness, and maintaining emotional detachment. He advocated for decisions based on empirical evidence and practical consequences while recognizing the importance of humility and ethical considerations. By questioning ideas, analyzing information, and being willing to learn from mistakes, one can exercise sound judgment that promotes the greater good.

Psychology Perspectives:

Psychologists emphasize several key factors for exercising good judgment: recognizing and mitigating cognitive biases like confirmation bias and overconfidence; managing emotions effectively through emotional intelligence; engaging in deliberate and analytical thinking by gathering information and evaluating alternatives; improving judgment with experience and expertise; fostering self-awareness and reducing impulsive reactions through mindfulness; and understanding the roles of social influences and environmental context. By applying these principles, individuals can make more informed and balanced decisions in various aspects of life.

Daniel Kahneman:  in his book “Thinking, Fast and Slow,” describes two systems of thought: “System 1,” which is fast, intuitive, and emotional, and “System 2,” which is slower, more deliberative, and logical. Good judgment often requires balancing these two systems, being aware of the biases that can distort our thinking, and knowing when to rely on intuition versus analytical thinking.

Albert Bandura: Bandura’s concept of self-efficacy includes the belief in one’s ability to make sound judgments. This sense of self-efficacy contributes to viewing judgment as a virtue, as it encompasses confidence in making decisions that align with one’s values and goals.

Barry Schwartz: Schwartz, in his book “Practical Wisdom: The Right Way to Do the Right Thing,” co-authored with Kenneth Sharpe, argues that judgment as a virtue involves the ability to balance conflicting interests and values, making decisions that are not only effective but also ethically sound.

Howard Gardner: Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences includes intrapersonal intelligence, which relates to understanding oneself and exercising sound judgment. This self-awareness and the ability to reflect on one’s own decisions is seen as a virtuous application of judgment.

A Business Perspective:

Modern business thought leaders have built upon the aforementioned relevant philosophical and psychological foundations, applying the concept of judgment to modern leadership and decision-making contexts. Their insights offer practical wisdom for today’s complex and fast-paced world.

Warren Buffett

Warren Buffett, known as the “Oracle of Omaha,” is renowned for his exceptional investment strategies and sound judgment in business. Buffett emphasizes the importance of learning from mistakes and continuously refining one’s decision-making processes. He suggests that good judgment stems from the ability to learn from past errors and adapt strategies accordingly.

Buffett’s investment philosophy is grounded in patience, thorough research, and a long-term perspective. He famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” This quote underscores the value of prudent judgment and the impact of each decision on one’s reputation and legacy. Buffett’s approach to judgment involves a deep understanding of financial markets, rigorous analysis, and a commitment to ethical practices, making him a model for aspiring leaders and investors.

Ray Dalio

Ray Dalio, the founder of Bridgewater Associates, one of the world’s largest hedge funds, is a proponent of radical transparency and continuous improvement in decision-making. In his book “Principles,” Dalio outlines his approach to cultivating good judgment through principles such as radical transparency and openness to feedback.

Dalio advocates for creating an idea meritocracy where the best ideas win out, regardless of their source. This approach helps leaders tap into the collective intelligence of their teams, fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are valued, and critical thinking is encouraged. By emphasizing radical transparency, Dalio ensures that all team members have access to the same information, enabling more informed and balanced decisions. His principles highlight the importance of honesty, integrity, and continuous learning in refining one’s judgment.

Noel Tichy

Noel Tichy, a renowned professor and author on leadership, emphasizes the importance of judgment in developing effective leaders. Tichy is known for his “Leadership Engine” framework, which focuses on the continuous development of leaders within organizations. He argues that good judgment is essential for leaders to identify and cultivate talent, drive organizational change, and create a culture of learning.

Tichy believes that judgment can be developed through experience, reflection, and mentorship. He advocates for leaders to act as teachers, sharing their knowledge and experiences with their teams to build a pipeline of future leaders. Tichy’s approach underscores the importance of creating an environment where continuous learning and critical thinking are encouraged, enabling leaders to make informed and balanced decisions.

Tichy’s work also highlights the role of storytelling in leadership. He believes that effective leaders use stories to communicate values, vision, and lessons learned, thereby shaping the judgment of their teams. By integrating storytelling with practical experience, Tichy provides a comprehensive approach to developing judgment in leadership.

Warren Bennis

Warren Bennis, a pioneer in the field of leadership studies, emphasizes that judgment is the essence of effective leadership. Bennis has contributed significantly to our understanding of leadership and the role of judgment in decision-making. He believes that great leaders are distinguished by their ability to make sound judgments, especially in times of uncertainty and change.

Bennis’s work underscores the importance of self-awareness, ethical behavior, and a deep understanding of one’s values in cultivating good judgment. He posits that leaders must be lifelong learners, continuously reflecting on their experiences and seeking to understand the broader context of their decisions. Bennis’s insights highlight that good judgment involves balancing intuition with rational analysis, considering multiple perspectives, and making decisions that align with one’s core values and ethical principles.

Bennis’s seminal work, “On Becoming a Leader,” explores the attributes and skills that define successful leaders, emphasizing that judgment is at the heart of effective leadership. His ideas have influenced countless leaders and remain a cornerstone in leadership development programs worldwide.

Practical Wisdom for Leaders and Business Owners

For leaders and business owners, good judgment is crucial for success. Here are practical strategies to enhance judgment, with examples of application:

  • Analyze customer feedback regularly: Implement a systematic approach to gather and analyze customer feedback. For instance, a restaurant owner might use comment cards and online reviews to identify trends in customer preferences.
  • Engage in peer groups: Join industry-specific peer groups or mastermind sessions for fresh perspectives and innovative ideas. A tech startup founder might join a local entrepreneurs’ group to gain insights on funding strategies.
  • Leverage data analytics: Invest in tools to track key performance indicators (KPIs) relevant to your business. A retail store owner might use data analytics to optimize inventory management.
  • Practice scenario planning: Engage in exercises to plan for various potential future scenarios. A manufacturing company might develop contingency plans for supply chain disruptions.
  • Delegate wisely: Recognize your strengths and weaknesses and delegate tasks accordingly. A small business owner might hire a professional accountant for financial planning.
  • Stay agile: Develop an agile mindset to pivot quickly when necessary. A software company might shift from a product-based model to a service-based model in response to market demands.
  • Make decisions aligned with ethical standards: Establish and adhere to a strong ethical framework. A clothing manufacturer might choose ethically sourced materials and fair labor practices.
  • Invest in continuous learning: Stay updated with the latest industry trends, technologies, and best practices. A digital marketing agency owner might attend SEO conferences regularly.
  • Implement reflective practices: Reflect on the outcomes of major decisions through post-mortem analyses. A project manager might hold team debriefs after each major project.
  • Cultivate a culture that encourages diverse viewpoints: Foster a workplace culture that encourages open communication and diverse perspectives. A tech company might implement regular “innovation days” for employees to pitch new ideas.


Judgment is about making the right decisions for the right reasons at the right time. It’s a skill that can be developed and refined through experience, reflection, and conscious effort. By continually honing our judgment, learning from our experiences, and seeking diverse perspectives, we can navigate life’s complexities with wisdom and insight.

In today’s fast-paced, information-rich world, good judgment is more important than ever. It helps us cut through the noise, focus on what’s truly important, and make decisions that align with our values and goals. Whether leading a large organization, running a small business, or navigating your personal life, remember that your judgment is your secret weapon for success.

Developing good judgment requires self-reflection, a willingness to learn from mistakes, and the courage to make difficult decisions. It involves balancing analytical thinking with emotional intelligence, considering multiple perspectives, and understanding the broader context of our decisions.

As you face your next challenging decision, step back, consider the broader context, weigh the potential outcomes, and trust in the judgment you’ve cultivated. Use it wisely, and watch your path to success unfold. As Aristotle said, “Excellence is not an act, but a habit.” The same can be said for good judgment—it’s a virtue that, when practiced consistently, leads to a life of wisdom, success, and fulfillment.