Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Key Leadership Qualities - Discernment

This is the second of ten articles on leadership qualities based on the last chapter of John Maxwell's book, "The 360-Degree Leader." This quality is Discernment-Understanding The Real Issues.

Discernment is the ability to grasp, comprehend, and evaluate clearly. It means we can see the true nature of things; it allows us to distinguish between what is real and what is imitation. This is one of those intangible qualities that cannot be taught, but can be developed and improved upon over time.

As a leadership quality, there are very few that could be considered more valuable than discernment and, as Stephen Covey writes, "Discernment is often far more accurate than either observation or measurement." So, in what ways is discernment valuable?

Discernment helps you see beyond the facts. This is particularly helpful in the hiring process. How often have we sat across from people who were great interviewees, seemingly the perfect employee, only to find out later that it was all smoke and mirrors? If you have found yourself on the wrong end of these encounters, consider having a more gifted colleague sit in with you for their perspective.

Discernment can help sort out the best from the rest. There are times when we have to choose from a number of good options. These often result in the "paralysis of analysis," when we find ourselves stuck in a rut going back and forth between options. Discernment often can cut through the clutter to find the intangibles that result in the right choice.

Discernment can keep you from making the big mistake. Sometimes the best decisions we make are "none of the above." People with discernment will often speak of times when they just got that "check in their spirit" or "feeling in their gut" that caused them to back away from what would have been a bad decision.

As a Christian pastor I've had to rely often on God to help me in my decision making processes. Learning to hear that "still, small voice" has helped me often when big decisions have to be made. For me, I try never to make a decision of any consequence without first making it a matter of prayer. Understanding that, since discernment is usually about making the right decisions, what are some other ways we can help ensure that we do that?

Remember that there is "safety in the multitude of counselors" (Proverbs 11:14). I have a number of mentors that I can consult on different issues I may be facing. Their combined wisdom can save me from a world of hurt.

Try to avoid "snap" decisions. There are some decisions that obviously need to be made quickly, but, more often than not, nothing is lost in giving ourselves time to process. Sleeping on it will even allow your subconscious mind to perhaps give rise to questions or concerns you wouldn't have otherwise considered.

Ask the right questions. Will making this decision keep you aligned with the values and the vision of your organization? Who will be adversely affected by this decision? Are there personal issues which could impact your decision-making ability? Is this the right time?

Own the decision. Once you have made up your mind, move on. Take full responsibility for what you've decided, good or bad. If things don't work out, be sure to review the process to see what you've missed and so that you don't repeat the mistake. As John Powell has said: "The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing."

Related Articles:
Authentic Leadership
Iron Sharpens Iron
Key Leadership Qualities - Adaptability
Where's A Good Mentor?


  1. I appreciate your content. It's so enriching and I feel so inspired and enlightened. Thank you so much! God bless you...!

  2. It is without a doubt that the higher the leader is in the organizational hierarchy, the more impact his or her decisions will have.

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  4. Discernment is to analyse and not quickly respond but take time to know the truth and understand about it. It helps one to sort out many problems and gives a clear solution.