Written by Meena Thuraisingham, Director and Principal TalentInvest, Nov 2010  

Wisdom about people or situations is not a product of knowledge and experience per se but of how that knowledge and experience is put to use in making a decision.  In some circumstances too much knowledge and experience may even be a liability – one of the reasons why you may have witnessed the most knowledgeable and experienced people making dumb decisions about people or situations.

Judgement is balance – the ability to balance the more deductive elements of a given scenario e.g. logic, facts, data of a given situation and the more intuitive elements e.g. emotions, attitudes, feelings such as empathy, pride, fear, courage and so on

A wise judgment is one where a good balance is struck between these 2 dimensions and this is only possible through choice that comes from reflection eg balancing with facts presented with the more intuitive elements. That is to say the very essence of wisdom is observed in one’s ability to make an explicit choice about balancing these 2 factors:

  • Balance of interests = intrapersonal (one’s own conflicted interests), inter-personal (one’s interests relative to the interests of others), and extra-personal (the competing interests of others)
  • Balance of responses = adapting, shaping and selecting from a range of possible responses often underpinned by one’s set of values.


To illustrate this point about balance consider these scenarios.   An executive driven by personal loyalty (the emotional dimension) but confronted with a loyal but under-performing team member may still apply objective and balanced assessment of the performance consequences on the business and all its stakeholders and recognise that, despite being loyal, this under-performing team member has to go.  Similarly an executive who recognises the pain that a major but necessary restructuring will have on her people may make a balanced choice to press ahead, but will handle the change process sensitively.  An executive who chooses to only engage with the business logic/case for change is unlikely to tune into the fears and anxieties of the people most affected by the change. By inference, poor or unwise judgment occurs when  balance is not applied.

In our research this lack of balance manifested itself in who the derailed executive chose to rely on or trust or take counsel from. Instead they allowed themselves to be hijacked by one set of interests (sometimes the loudest or most insistent voice) or ignored the existence of others whose interests did not align with their own.

The consequence of not recognising the interests of all stakeholders was often that the person’s judgements about the appropriate responses to a given situation became clouded. This caused them to be seen by others as partial or one-sided in their judgements.  In other examples we found executives focused primarily on their own tasks and priorities, and thus unable to connect to something other than their own needs.

Our research confirmed that executives making wise decisions (in the face of complex challenges) showed not only the ability to connect to something bigger than themselves but also showed a propensity for discernment and distinction – being able to look at situational clues and make a judgement that, for example, in this particular case a different response and a different balancing of interests and responses were required.  Executives who demonstrate this ability are comfortable with complexity and all the challenges that come with it.

Written by Meena Thuraisingham
Director and Principal, Talent Invest

Meena Thuraisingham is a consultant, author, executive coach and thought leader in the area of People and Culture. An organisational psychologist by training, she founded TalentInvest, a niche consulting practice, advising global clients in the UK, Asia and Australia in Capability and Culture. Meena is also a regular speaker internationally on leadership effectiveness and culture change.

Her published books are The Secret Life of Decisions, Careers Unplugged and Derailed!. Get Your Copy Today