Saving the World from World War III

During the Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962, Collins and Porras report that President Kennedy was incredibly comfortable with expressing what he did not know and asking many questions before passing judgments. This led to informed decision making that may have saved the world from World War III. Many change leaders have difficulty publicly owning the fact that they do not have all the answers and demonstrating a real interest in listening and learning. They likely have noticed that someone who communicates more confidence in their judgment tends to be responded to more positively than a person who is more cautious—particularly if the audience is predisposed to that point of view. However, behavioral economists have found that this can lead to serious errors of judgment. For example, those individuals in the media who are most self-assured in their judgment are significantly less accurate than those who are more nuanced in their assessments. We may love their bravado and certainty, which helps explain their frequent appearances on TV, but beware of putting too much trust in their conclusions!25 In 2002–2003 Vice President Dick Cheney’s confidence in Saddam Hussein and Iraq’s possession of weapons of mass destruction was absolute, and yet, U.S. forces found very few.

Reputations for skill, judgment, and success develop over time, and this development is aided by a greater willingness to look, listen, and learn before committing to a course of action. As Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues have noted, dangerous biases creep into important decision making and these need to be guarded against. Taking steps that keep you open to learning and testing your assumptions can help you avoid decision traps and greatly benefit the quality of the final choice.26

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These actions reinforce the value of looking before you leap. People will build trust in your judgment, knowing that you’ve done your homework and considered the situation seriously, and show others that a little humility in one’s judgment never hurts.


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