Good Judgement

What’s with the recent rash of high profile bad judgment?

  • New York Yankees superstar Alex Rodriguez admits he used steroids from 2001-2003, when he had the richest contract in baseball ($250 million).
  • Michael Phelps, who won a record 8 gold medals in last year’s Summer Olympics, is caught smoking marijuana and loses his Kellogg’s sponsorship deal.
  • Recently ousted Merrill Lynch CEO John Thain claims he had to spend $1.2 million to redo his office because it didn’t match the rest of the company’s décor.
  • Executives of foundering financial institutions bailed out by the government give themselves outrageous bonuses, which will come out of taxpayers’ pockets.
  • Disgraced megachurch pastor Ted Haggard faces a new accusation of an inappropriate sexual relationship with a 20 year old male church volunteer.
  • Nadya Suleman, unemployed single mother of octuplets, not only chooses to have 8 embryos implanted in her uterus, and not only has 6 other children, several with disabilities, but has now set up a web site to collect donations.

We shake our heads and ask ourselves, “What were they thinking?”

The truth is that most of us get up in the morning with good intentions of making wise choices.  We want to act in ways that are congruent with our heart’s deepest held values.  Why is it, then, that we sometimes exercise bad judgment and unintentionally make poor decisions?  High expectations that others have of us and that we have of ourselves causes stress that can lead us astray.  Greed is a powerful motivator of bad decisions.  Impulsiveness and peer pressure influence people to ignore the consequences of their actions.  Fear clouds our thought processes.  A lack of self-awareness, isolation and a preoccupation with self create an insular mindset. 

There is such a thing as collective bad judgment as well.  We need look no further than the church to observe how groups of people can also make poor choices.  In my travels around the district, I have noticed that many churches who are in trouble today are suffering the natural consequences of past collective bad decisions.  

  • We enter a building program without carefully “counting the cost,” taking out such a huge loan that the church cannot make the payments after a few years.
  • We go against our better judgment and bow to pressure from others by hiring the wrong person as music director or church secretary.
  • We decide to add or reduce the number of worship services without doing our homework or seeking adequate input from others.
  • A decision to ignore the importance of internal financial controls leads to misappropriation of money. 
  • Not taking the time to formulate a computer use policy leads to a discovery of pornography on a church computer.
  • We realize that the neighborhood around the church is changing but do not make any effort to change ourselves in order to reach out to our new neighbors.
  • Because resources are scarce, we decide to hunker down and keep the primary focus of the church inward rather than outward.

Wise decisions do not happen by accident.  In fact, I believe that good judgment is the essence of great spiritual leadership.  I wish the apostle Paul had added it to his list of fruits of the spirit in Galatians 5:22!  Conversely, a lack of good judgment is one of the biggest red flags in assessing an individual’s leadership ability.  Poor decisions get good people into the most awful of messes.

How do we learn how to make good judgments?

1.         Be deliberate and take your time.  Knee jerk reactions and hasty decisions usually lack wisdom.  No major decision should be made the first time it is presented to your congregation.  People need time to mull things over.  Decide in a few months. 

2.         Question yourself by consulting with and engaging others.  Don’t make decisions in a vacuum.  Invaluable advice can be gained from spiritual directors, mentors, coaches and trusted friends. 

3.         Stay healthy.  Poor decisions often result when people are tired, overworked, out of balance, stressed or worried about family or health concerns.

4.         Lead with your heart.  Look deep into yourself by checking your motives and recognizing when you are more concerned about self-interest than the good of the organization.

5.         The most essential quality needed for good judgment is foresight.  Foresight literally means to “see ahead” and can be defined as “perception of the significance and nature of events before they have occurred.”  Great spiritual leaders climb higher than others and can therefore see things that others can’t see.  By seeing the big picture, effective leaders perceive potential future problems, develop strategies to solve them, then create processes by which to execute and monitor those strategies. 

The key to foresight is creating a compelling vision of the future that guides the organization.  Good judgment rests on the foundation of core values and a clear purpose, which guides the vision and inspires people to tap into their own greatness and desire to serve.  

At the same time as we lament the poor judgment of so many, don’t forget about the heroes in our midst who save lives, literally and figuratively, through their foresight.  How about US Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger, who last month landed his 155 passenger plane safely in theHudson Riverwith not one life lost?  How did he do it?  Relying on his mission of providing safety in the air and his many years of training, skills and experience, “Sully” had the foresight to quickly recognize the problem, think through the possibilities, decide on a strategy and execute it. 

What might happen if every United Methodist in our world:

  • internalized the vision and mission of our denomination
  • had a clear picture of a world of shalom led by servant leaders
  • had the foresight to see the needs of their neighborhood as well as the world
  • was determined to demonstrate individual and collective good judgment, guided by core values and the solid foundation of faith in Jesus Christ

I can see that future.  Can you?

Blessings, Laurie        

P.S. You might want to check out these books:

Foresight as the Central Ethic of Leadership, Daniel Kim, 2001, The Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership (www.greenleaf.org) Judgment: How Winning Leaders make Good Calls, Noel Tichy and Warren Bennis, Portfolio, 2007

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