Trust Your Own Judgment

Judg­ment means draw­ing con­clu­sions, mak­ing deci­sions for your­self and act­ing on your best instincts.  Like a lot of lead­er­ship top­ics, it’s about too much or too lit­tle.  Too much trust of self can lead to biased or mag­i­cal think­ing.  Too lit­tle, we’re sim­ply let­ting oth­ers decide.  Some­where in the mid­dle is a sweet spot.  That’s not news but it’s some­times tough to pull off, in part because our judg­ment influ­ences where we think the sweet spot is going to be.

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To fur­ther your under­stand­ing, look to your con­di­tion­ing.   As a child, were you taught to trust or mis­trust your judg­ment?  What fac­tors were, and are involved?  Fam­i­ly his­to­ry, race, gen­der, the nature of ear­ly rela­tion­ships, fam­i­ly pat­terns of con­trol, dom­i­nance, resis­tance, com­pli­ance?  Some of these fac­tors, at best, will be semi-con­scious.   Did you see your­self as an inde­pen­dent, trust-only-your­self sur­vivor or some­one who belonged and placed heavy – maybe too heavy – depen­dence on oth­ers and their views as part of a fam­i­ly or cul­tur­al identity?

I sus­pect you don’t see your­self at either end of the spec­trum, which in turn begs the ques­tion of how you  do see your­self.  You can ask your­self what iden­ti­ties you are most proud of:  “Free thinker?”  “Con­sen­sus builder” “Thought leader?” “Cre­ative con­sol­ida­tor?”  “Insti­ga­tor?”  What­ev­er it might be, we didn’t get these roles out of thin air.  They reflect our unique being and expe­ri­ence but also our per­ceived tem­pera­ment or per­son­al­i­ty, some of which is the prod­uct of genet­ics and bio­chem­istry. We built up the roles over time, all the way back, and they are still evolving.

Being ingrained self-con­cepts of some kind, the roles we play may make us who we feel we are and describe our self-assigned iden­ti­ty as lead­ers, but they also fun­da­men­tal­ly define a “false self,” a per­son we desire or imag­ine oth­ers see us as being beyond our pri­vate truths.  If it is pos­si­ble to get to an even truer self, it would be by some­how escap­ing all the roles or mod­els or truths we act out. We would have to see them all as false and feel in the moment how the tim­bers of our house, no mat­ter how per­fect­ly assem­bled, ulti­mate­ly rest on a void.  We would look down in an emp­ty moment and find noth­ing there.

And yet, if we could gen­uine­ly set them aside, that might also begin to feel like a kind of lib­er­a­tion. One way to know if you are break­ing free from this house – a house that also sure­ly has qual­i­ties of a prison — is if you find your­self dis­ap­point­ed when you sense you are unable to play your “favorite” roles.  The house is the ego; the ego is the house, and it is the ego that ulti­mate­ly rests on the void.

It is after the moment of dis­ap­point­ment wears off that some­thing new, per­haps word­less, then can enter. 

Thomas Mer­ton, the Trap­pist monk, called the true self a “shy wild ani­mal” that only shows itself when all is qui­et, lured only by its “divine free­dom”.1   It’s a metaphor that is as beau­ti­ful as it is provoca­tive.  Too often the ref­er­ence to ani­mals in lit­er­a­ture has some­thing to do with hunt­ing, being hunt­ed or being frozen in head­lights.  Merton’s anal­o­gy is of a sweet­er, more patient kind, where we have to be still, let­ting the crea­ture approach us on its own.  If we reach out too quick­ly for an answer, we may only chase it away.

  1. Thomas Mer­ton, The Inner Expe­ri­ence: Notes on Con­tem­pla­tion, Harper­One, Kin­dle Edi­tion, 2012, page 4.
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Back in the late 1980’s when I was doing recon­nais­sance into how well peo­ple were speak­ing up in orga­ni­za­tions, there were two main behav­iors by lead­ers that peo­ple told me caused them to become care­ful about express­ing them­selves. One was abra­sive behav­ior by lead­ers — shout­ing, crit­i­ciz­ing, insult­ing or oth­er­wise under­min­ing peo­ple. The oth­er leadership […]