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Using Good Judgement


An iceberg is a great analogy for many individual, team & organization efforts.  Perhaps the most familiar model is from Ed Schein in which he uses the visible & invisible to illustrate how a company makes decisions. How it takes action.

Above the water (visible) of the iceberg indicates strategic intent. Below the water (invisible) of the iceberg indicates core principles & values.

Below the water!

  • Hard Work
  • Failure
  • Doubts
  • Set-Backs
  • Persistence
  • Long Days
  • Sacrifice
  • Courage
  • Action
  • Risks

Above the water!

  • Success.

Here are 2 example organizations. What type of environment would you thrive in? Which one inserts more wisdom?

Example A

  • Practice: stacked rankings of employees
  • Principle: get the cream to rise to the top
  • Value: competition
  • Belief: few people really drive performance in the organization

Example B

  • Practice: 40-hours training for everyone
  • Principle: enable contribution for everyone based on unique talents/gifts
  • Value: collaboration
  • Belief: everybody matters

Let's dig a little deeper into "Example B" and what makes it work.

Connect the Dots

  • Provide the "big" picture context
  • Tie it to what each individual does
  • Talk about how it all fits together & influences one another
  • This is the basis for employees good judgements
  • Everyone ideally knows what the dots are & how they're connected

Mission, Vision, Values

  • Overall strategy
  • Latest company news
  • What's happening on the ground
  • What are the key performance indicators?

Expect Leadership Everywhere

  • Leader is a position
  • Leadership is the behaviors
  • What's rewarded/recognized will be repeated

Strengthen Employee Voice

  • Leaders learn humble inquiry
  • Followers learn how to constructively confront
  • Power differential between hierarchical positions becomes more "fuzzy"

Before we move on, let's  look at 2 examples. How do each of these connect the dots; show their mission, vision, values; expect leadership everywhere; strengthen employee voice?

Canadian Geese don't care who leads. The leader changes when tired.

Starlings move together as a group. Team agility is paramount.

Here are some additional aspects that make "Example B" work.


  • If you want people to trust, be trustworthy.
  • Trustworthy = Right Intentions + Capability + Ethics & Integrity
    • "ICE"-berg  -  Intentions | Capability | Ethics

Promote the Common Good

  • Organizational purpose must be articulated & manifested in the "common good"
  • The orientation of the organization must include not only all of its members but also the various external partners
    • customers, clients, suppliers, broader community

Make Decisions at the Lowest Level

  • Organizational decisions need to be informed not only by the high-level strategic decisions but on the ground knowledge
  • Organizational members need to be recognized as capable of making prudent decisions
  • 3 Key components
    • Depth of shared data up/down
    • Breadth of shared data
    • Competency & deep knowledge base of subject matter experts

Focus on the Long Term

  • Organizational action (while constrained by the short term) must be aimed at long term purpose & achievement

The W.L. GORE company is a great real life example of these beliefs & principles. They approach all of this with this principle for risk tolerance...

The Waterline Principle

β€œThe waterline principle means that it’s ok to make a decision that might punch a hole in the boat as long as the hole is above the waterline so that it won’t potentially sink the ship.

But, if the decision might create a hole below the waterline which might cause the ship to sink, then associates are encouraged to consult with their team so that a collaborative decision can be made.”
-W.L. Gore (1912-1986)

A mistake above the water line doesn't threaten the whole ship.

A mistake below the water line jeopardizes the whole ship...proceed with support!

For this to work, it's important to choose the appropriate decision-making process to use, especially when support is needed.

  • Majority Rules
  • Subject Matter Expert
  • Autocratic
  • Participatory
  • Consensus
  • Unanimity
  • Combination of ?

Your intention is the key. If you want a culture where people feel safe to use good judgement in making decisions be sure you're...

  • Connecting the dots
  • Expecting leadership (behavior) everywhere
  • Demanding trustworthiness
  • Promoting the common good
  • Expecting decisions to be made at the lowest level
  • Focus on the long term

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This technology is supported in part by New Technologies for Agriculture Extension grant no. 2020-41595-30123 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture and membership funding. Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the content are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. For more information, please visit You can view the terms of useat

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