by Elisebeth VanderWeil, Ph.D.
Media streams are clogged with stories involving leadership gone wrong – from personal scandals to financial shenanigans to outright abuse. It is no wonder that my students of leadership still baulk at answering the call to be leader when these are the examples most often set before them.
Enter Judgment Calls, a dozen stories on leadership gone right.
"Judgment" is another term that often gets a bad rap. While we would all like to exercise "good judgment," we don't like to "be judged" or be "judgmental." So, too, many of us would like to "exercise good leadership," but don't want to "be leaders" or believe ourselves to have leadership capacity. Thomas Davenport and Brook Manville offer a counterpoint toward balance with their "12 stories of big decisions and the teams that got them right." In order to present us with examples of 21st Century leadership that works for the benefit of all, these 12 case studies span as many industries to offer keen, clear insight into the vital elements of leadership and judgment that are needed for long-term, sustainable, profitable – however "profit" is defined – organizations.
Two of these leadership elements are evident right out of the gate: collaboration and wisdom.
All of these stories of leadership gone right defy the "Great Man" or "Dictator" default setting many people have in mind when they think of great leadership. All of these judgment calls are made by groups – teams, project partners, departments, etc. The processes and products of these opportunities to get it right involved a lot of people in diverse capacities who shared experiences, vision, and passion. Successful leadership and decision-making does not happen in a vacuum or even a boardroom. In order for organizations to best benefit, judgment calls must happen within a "collective capacity to make good calls and wise moves when the need for them exceeds the scope of any single leader's direct control" (from the Foreword). This could be termed a "culture of leadership" for the 21st Century organization.
This "culture of leadership" is needed at a time when we are inundated with information and increased rates of change. The authors of Judgment Calls point out that it doesn't matter how much information you have, or how you can manage and manipulate it; getting leadership right is a matter of wisdom through relationships and experiences over time. Getting it right tends to take more time and the way to get it right may not be straight and narrow; developing relationships, reflecting on consequences, integrating multiple views, and getting creative with resources all take time and are not a direct path to "the bottom line." Activating the "wisdom of the crowd" is one of the greatest challenges and rewards of leadership today for tomorrow.
For, as one astute, young poet put it, "the bottom line's in the car seat/the bottom line's voice hasn't dropped." (George Watsky, 2010)
VanderWeil works as the Director of Organizational Leadership at Mountain State University and holds a Ph.D. in Leadership Studies from Gonzaga University. Her seemingly disconnected yet thematic work experience has provided her with the skills and experience to remain curious, flexible, decisive, and knowledgeable in many realms.