by Navy Capt. Randy Blackmon and Professor Gene Kamena
Air War College, Leadership and Warfighting Department
9/13/2013 - Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. -- Your legacy as a leader is defined, to some degree, by acts of reaching conclusions. That is, your decision-making. In the military, decisions and orders result in making things happen. Judgment, or your ability to make sound decisions, largely sets the conditions for your organization's success. There are several factors that bound or affect the decision-making process. Time available is one of them. For example, battlefield judgment requires that decisions be made quickly in order to gain the initiative or exploit a fleeting opportunity. Pondering, in these cases, invites disaster, and the delay could result in someone else making the decision for you.
This article will address judgment when the leader is afforded time to think, weigh the costs against the benefits and consider second- and third-order effects.
Decisions at the senior and strategic leader levels rely less on rules and instructions and more on how the unique merits of the case or situation are viewed and framed. Few are black and white, right or wrong, because infinite shades of gray define the decision space of senior leaders. There are no absolutes, as facts are merely truths within a limited domain. Right and wrong overlap as commanders attempt to answer what action will cause the least harm or what will result in the best possible outcome.
It is, however, much easier to see the world through absolutes or narrow mental models, or, in other words, black and white. Decisions strictly based on these absolutes require little to no judgment at all, minimum effort and no critical thinking. A virtue of life is examination, to think and to consider different viewpoints. In other words, to adequately judge. There are many considerations in making judgments on issues that are complex. A few notable techniques are:
Greatest good: This principle considers the greatest good for the individual, group, command, service or nation.
Near and far term: The primary consideration in this case is weighing short-term outcomes against long-term outcomes.
Anomalies: Ask yourself what makes this particular case different compared to similar or the same category of cases experienced in the past? This method helps guard against placing each case into a familiar bin or category, generally resulting in a similar decision or outcome.
Extremes: Consider the extremes of your possible actions. This allows the comparison between doing nothing and exercising the full extent of your available power. Considering the extremes (full steam ahead or full reverse) can open up your mind to a wider range of possible options.
Along with the above techniques, there are other methods that can aid in developing your judgment over time:
· Self-assessing your decisions can help determine if your judgment was appropriate for the situation.
· Soliciting feedback from others can provide insight that you may not garner during a self-assessment.
· Being aware of your biases can ensure that your decisions are not blindly guided by them.
· Applying critical thinking and widening your field of view through lifelong learning also expand your decision-making capability and develop your judgment.
· And, finally, when faced with an important decision, think carefully, give it your time, and judge; this will build your experience.
As we draw down military manpower, senior-leader decisions will have significant impact on the overall effectiveness of the force. Rule-based or zero-tolerance judgments will likely result in devastating collateral damage, self-inflicted wounds that we cannot afford. As you rise through the ranks, realize that your decisions are far-reaching and that you represent your service and the nation during challenging times. Take the time to decide, expand your frames of reference, and judge each case on its own merits. Duty as a leader demands that you hone your judgment and decision-making skills when serving in a position of responsibility.
Each day is judgment day.