The Atlas

Skill & will are table stakes; but the killer is judgement

I spend a lot of time talking about the empowerment of teams, and the value of coaching your people and giving them room to make mistakes and learn from them. The truth is, however, this assumes a few key elements are in place to make that work:

  1. A foundation of skills that make growth an evolution and not a revolution
  2. A will to learn and grow in the ways that fit the goals of the organization and the role
  3. The judgement to be entrusted with greater degrees of responsibility

But what happens when one of these is missing?

The first two -- foundation of skills and a will to grow -- are relatively easy to solve for, and not subject to a lot of gray area and debate. I rarely find leaders who feel bad about moving someone out of a role when they don't meet expectations on these.

The third one -- judgement -- is really the difficult one. And, unfortunately, the most dangerous thing I see leaders do all the time, is simply try to avoid dealing with it. Leaders often think that they are the only ones who see the problem and that they can manage it, when it reality, they are often the last ones to see what's been going on. And so by the time they are aware of a problem, the rest of the team is watching. And you are jeopardizing your team's trust in you by leaving someone in place who is clearly not up for the job.

Stephen Covey once said: "Character is what we are; competence is what we can do." These two things in combination establish our judgement, and ultimately the degree of trustworthiness we establish with those around us.

As a boss, I am rather notorious for throwing new people into the deep end of the pool. Unlike most self-admitted control freaks, I have no issues delegating, and I like to see how people function under pressure as soon as possible. I also like to drive the question of will-they-or-won't-they-survive to the finish line as aggressively and quickly as I can. This technique has largely worked well for me, but it also means I tend to hire for experience, because this is rarely the best way to grow nascent talent.

But, what are your options when it appears that you can't trust someone's judgement?

To be fair, they all kind of suck.

In my experience, once you start doubting someone's judgement, it's very hard to recover it. At best, I've seen tough, honest conversations as part of a separation process, and then someone going on to either a role that better suits them, or digging deep to tackle the issues that led to the erosion of trust in the first place.

Parents who doubt their teenager's judgement have a different motivational construct for trying to recover this type of situation than leaders with employees, or business partners, or even friends. As a result, your options will vary widely. (As will your timeline for recovery.)

So what are the points-of-no-return for you when it comes to trusting someone's judgement? And how do the lines move depending on the different relationships in your life?

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