Query for judgment

November 17, 2009 · 3 min read

The top thing I've learned about management is a rule I call "query for judgment."

Simply put, it's this: by default, always ask your reports for their judgment before giving your own. Ask their proposals on how to solve a problem. Ask their ideas for products or features. Ask their opinion on prioritization. Ask their thoughts on risks.

Compare these approaches:

The top advantages of this, as opposed to giving your thoughts first:

Towards the end of my time at Amazon, I was trying to wean my engineers off of my help. I started having one-on-ones with them that went like this: "So, how's your project going? ... OK, how do you feel about that progress? ... OK. What do you think are the next steps? ... Sounds good. Which of those is most important? ... I agree. What are the top risks this is facing right now? ... Good, so, what can we do about them? ... Great, thanks." I gave no input except to ask the right questions; I let them come up with all the answers.

"Query for judgment" is related to "seek first to understand" (from Seven Habits), but it's doubly important for managers, especially since it doesn't come naturally. As a manager, you probably got your role by having high judgment, so you're used to having the best ideas. As a leader, you may feel that you're supposed to have the best ideas and that your role is to give them to people. But for all the reasons above, you should query for judgment first.

These days I do most of my writing at The Roots of Progress. If you liked this essay, check out my other work there.


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