You make 1000’s of decisions every day—ranging from smaller, insignificant ones, to those of great importance. But have you ever stopped to think about how you make decisions? Why is it that some leaders find it easier to make certain decisions than others? When you are confronted with a difficult decision, do you go with your instinct or do you seek consensus or approval from others?
Imagine the CFO has come to you with an alarming set of figures that reveal you are on track to deliver results lower than expected to an upcoming board meeting. What do you do? Perhaps you need to let one of your senior leaders know that she is being overlooked for a promotion because she has poor interpersonal skills. What do you say? You realize that you need to reinvigorate growth but there are no new products in the pipeline. What steps can you take?
‘Prudence’ is described as one of the four cardinal virtues—the others are courage, self-control, and justice. Alexandre Havard argues that our commitment to practice these virtues in every dimension of our lives strengthens our reputation as a leader of character, and shapes our vision of the world and desire to see people flourish under our leadership.
What is prudence?
This relates to the leader’s ability to make the right decision, irrespective of the situation’s complexity, simplicity, or the cost.
Obviously, making a prudent decision is not always easy. What is best for one party is not necessarily the best outcome for another; short-term pain may be experienced before longer-term gains are realized; and there is always the pressure to win the approval and accolades of others.
It doesn’t matter where you live. We see this tension played out every day. Whether in our political or corporate domains, or in our educational, health, and religious institutions, in the public or private sector, we are confronted with the conundrum of doing what is right regardless of the cost—personally or corporately!
Revelations of scandal, corruption, rumor, abuse, and cover-ups have led us to question authority, and the ability of leaders to make prudent decisions.
We need to rediscover the virtue of prudence in our decision-making and its indelible relationship to our leadership, and to those who follow us.
According to Havard, there are three steps involved in making a prudent decision:
- Deliberation, which involves gathering all of the relevant information to analyze it critically. This includes sourcing information in such a way to avoid making a decision with prejudice
- Judgment, which entails carefully considering and evaluating the information gathered from a range of different perspectives; and
- Deciding—making a decision.[i]
In their classification of character strengths and virtues, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman substitute prudence with “wisdom and knowledge” from which five character strengths or traits originate: Creativity, curiosity, open-mindedness, the love of learning, and perspective.[ii]
These help us to see that making a prudent decision involves a number of psychological processes. It demonstrates the importance of reflection, taking the time to explore alternative solutions, being open to hearing input from others, and genuinely seeking to understand the situation at hand from a range of different perspectives.
Making a prudent decision, therefore, is not only rooted in what is right, but the process it takes to make it.
What’s the bottom-line?
The decisions you make each day have significant implications for your business, staff, customers, and key relationships—especially your family. Some important questions you might like to ask yourself include:
- What is the key motivation behind my decision?
- Have I looked at the problem from a number of different angles before considering alternative solutions?
- Do I have a plan to manage the implications of my decisions on others?
- How does this decision reflect on my character?
[i] Alexandre Havard, Virtuous Leadership: An Agenda for Personal Excellence (New York, NY: Scepter Publishers, 2007), 57.
[ii] Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004). 94.