I happened to come across a National Football League (NFL) scouting report of a young college student who wanted to be drafted into the NFL. The Scouting reports were not good.
The college student also took part in the NFL Scouting Combine where they test physical attributes. The results of that were not good either. The reports said he had poor arm strength and athleticism and his sprint times for the 40-yard dash were terrible.
In his report, one longtime analyst said, “I don’t like him. Smart guy. That’s it.” The only positive part of another report said that “He makes good decisions.”
In spite of these poor reports, this young college student was drafted in that year. Of the 200 drafted, he was taken at 199.
He Was Prudent
Prudent is not a word we see anymore. In fact, it doesn’t really sound very flattering. But the definition of prudent is: The perfected ability to make right decisions. That seemed to be the only positive thing in his scouting reports and physical analysis. He was Prudent.
The Perfected Ability to Make Right Decisions
There are two points that you need to pay attention to in that definition.
- Right. It’s easy to make decisions. It’s not easy to always make “right” decisions. “Right” in this case means right for the individual, organization, country, and the world in general.
- Perfected. Perfection comes with practice, patience, and wisdom. It takes time. You must work at it. I’ve spent a lifetime trying to perfect my golf swing. It’s far from perfect but it is better. Even the pros who will hit thousands of balls a day are trying to perfect their golf swing.
Practice Makes Perfect
We’ve all heard that old adage. But it’s not true. Practice doesn’t make perfect if you not practicing the right things or the parts that need to be practiced. Back to the golf pros, they not only have coaches but lots of technology to help measure and visualize their practice. They get almost instantaneous feedback on each practice swing.
This is why instantaneous feedback is so necessary. I heard someone once say, if you swat your dog with a newspaper for something he did wrong yesterday, he’ll have no idea what he’s being punished for. He will only become afraid of newspapers. This is one reason why annual assessment sessions with employees are so useless. There may have been an instance several months ago that needs to be fixed. But by now each participant has formed a memory in their head that satisfies their own needs and ego. Memory is powerful.
A college professor once had the students in his class write down everything about the day before when the space shuttle Challenger exploded during take-off. Ten years later, the professor tracked down as many students from that class that he could find. He handed them their own written record of that day to read over. One student who had written 14 pages read it through and then tossed it to the side and said to the professor, “That’s not right. Let me tell you what really happened!” Ten years later his memory of the incident was more powerful than his recording of the incident the following day. Memory is powerful.
Prudent Decision Making
Prudence is a process. It has well-defined steps that will need to be practiced to reach perfection. The Prudence process requires Trust, Diverse Points of View, and a Good Process
In my book, “Trust Me” I list the eight elements of trust. Those elements are self humility, development of others, commitment to learning, listening and creating unity, focus on the issue, compassion for others, personal integrity, not avoiding constructive disagreement, and finally endurance to stick with it to the end.
Diverse Points of View
We hear the word diversity used a great deal these days. But diversity by itself is worthless unless there is trust. Trust must be established first. Without trusted diversity of thought, there is no perfecting of the decision-making process.
Prudent decision making is not haphazard; it is a well-defined process. It can be simplified into three words: Deliberate, Decide, Do.
Deliberate. Because “time is critical”, most corporate teams don’t do enough (or any) deliberation. Other reasons I’ve encountered for not deliberating well include:
- “We already know the answer.” This happens because of ‘group think’ and ‘selective attention’. If we don’t have the trusted diversity of thinking, it’s easy to fall into these traps that make us think we already know the answer.
- This is only one right answer. This means that all the other possible answers are wrong. Leadership teams shouldn’t waste their time on truly right-wrong decisions. Leadership teams should be spending their time on dilemmas. This means they are dealing with right vs right decisions. These are the hard decisions.
- I believe what I see or I remember. (See the “Feedback” section above.)
Decide. One element of good decision making is described in something called Triple Loop Learning (Originally developed by Gregory Bateson and extended by Chris Argyris and Peter Senge). The first step in triple loop learning is to share openly and honestly your beliefs and assumptions about the topic up for decision.
Do. Having reached a decision through this process, the do part becomes much easier because all the parts of the team are working together. There is full commitment from each member of the team. I cover “Prudence” in previous blogs–take a look to get more detail than we covered here today.
So who was that young college student that was drafted 199 out of 200 that year? Tom Brady.
No other quarterback has appeared in more than 5 Super Bowls, let alone claimed over 4 rings. Tom has played in nine Super Bowls and won six of them. This weekend he will play in his tenth Super Bowl with the opportunity for his seventh win.
He makes good decisions!