When it comes to leadership qualities, discernment may not be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, it may seem like an odd topic to associate with leadership. However, as someone who has managed people and teams for over 20 years, I’ve found that discernment has been a crucial skill in my success as a leader.
Throughout my career, I’ve encountered many different situations and dynamics in hiring people and building teams. I’ve trusted my “gut” or intuition, but over time I realized that my level of discernment allowed me to quantify my intuition. Eventually, I learned that discernment was my superpower.
As I transitioned from a manager to a leader, I used this skill to learn how to take a step back and look holistically at a situation, rather than just being transaction focused. You may think that people who trust their intuition just have a better gut check, but I believe discernment can be learned. And once you intentionally become more discerning, how can you leverage it? How can it benefit you as a leader?
So, what is discernment?
According to dictionary.com, discernment is the ability to recognize small details, accurately tell the difference between similar things, and make intelligent judgments by using such observations.
Discernment involves the ability to make sound judgments and decisions by analyzing and understanding situations or information through a careful examination of the details. It is a cognitive process that involves evaluating and differentiating information in order to make informed decisions.
It’s important to compare discernment to intuition.
According to dictionary.com, intuition is “direct perception of truth, fact, etc., independent of any reasoning process; immediate apprehension.” It’s a fact, truth, etc., perceived in this way. It’s a keen and quick insight, and the quality or ability of having such direct perception or quick insight.
Intuition, on the other hand, is a subconscious process that involves an immediate understanding or insight without conscious reasoning or analysis. It is often referred to as a “gut feeling” or “sixth sense” and is believed to be a form of knowledge that is not obtained through conscious reasoning or analysis.
While discernment and intuition may seem like opposing concepts, they are both important in decision-making. Discernment allows individuals to analyze and understand situations through logical reasoning and critical thinking, while intuition allows individuals to rely on their inner sense of what is true or right without conscious analysis. Both of these abilities can be honed and developed through practice and experience.
Here are some personal examples of how discernment and intuition have helped me both personally and as a business leader:
Prevent Bad Decisions:
Having a high level of discernment can play a significant role in preventing poor decision-making. I recall an instance when my husband and I were considering investing in a small startup. We met with the founder at a local restaurant where he gave us his pitch. As I asked questions – some direct and some casual, pertaining to both business and personal aspects – I observed his responses closely. The inconsistencies in his answers, his methodology in building the business, and his overall demeanor left me feeling uneasy. When the founder excused himself to go to the restroom, I turned to my husband and told him that I wasn’t convinced. Years later, we learned that the founder had been imprisoned for federal tax evasion. By being attentive to the subtle signs, we were able to avert a crisis.
Hiring the Right People:
Earlier in my career, I faced a situation where I needed to hire someone to serve as my backup and manage day-to-day operations. I had two final candidates, one who was a good fit on paper and had the required skills, and another who was a cultural challenge but could definitely fill the role. The latter, let’s call him candidate #2, was a hard charger, very intelligent, and didn’t care about others’ opinions. My consulting company was inclined to hire candidate #1 due to his lovely interview and even-keeled demeanor. However, I believed that candidate #2 had better judgment, would push our company and vendors, and ask the tough questions needed for the role. Despite much negotiation, I was eventually approved to hire candidate #2. I was grateful that I trusted my instincts and hired candidate #2. He went on to make phenomenal contributions to our organization, and I even recommended him as my peer in a subsequent organization, where we worked together productively for several transformational years.
In my next article, I will provide some practical advice on how you can master discernment and improve your decision making abilities.
Aleta Jeffress is the Senior Vice President of Consulting Services and Denver Metro Lead for CGI. She has over 20 years as a successful CIO, executive business leader and technologist building relationships between business and technology to enable digital transformation and market growth. She drives innovative strategies for business and IT leadership, and has developed teams for Cybersecurity and Project Management Offices from the ground up. She currently drives business development, operations and delivery for commercial and public sector organizations in Colorado and five other states. Her career began in startup software companies where she started in a call center environment and moved through private and public sector organizations in the areas of software quality, product development, security, and ultimately leadership. Aleta is based in Denver, active in several community organizations and enjoys being outside with her family and four dogs.