Tichy and Bennis' "Judgment" Judged

Last Updated Feb 4, 2008 2:37 PM EST

The book Judgment: How Winning Leaders Make Great Calls, by Noel M. Tichy and Warren G. Bennis was published in November 2007 and garnered a fair amount of attention, given that Tichy and Bennis are well-known management thinkers. Business Week ran an excerpt from the book, they wrote a politically inclined op/ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, Judgment trumps experience, and the Harvard Business Review gave them a lengthy feature on the idea of judgment (here's the preview and BNet's own HBR in Brief breakdown of it).

The New York Times got around to reviewing it this Sunday. Though the review is titled "In Praise of The Decisive CEO," it is not so full of praise for the book. Instead, reviewer Stephen Kotkin calls it "a Valentine" for the 'savior-leader,' the kind of person who, in the Great Man theory of history, comes in to change the course of history. He is skeptical that this book is the handbook for savior-leaders. He calls Tichy and Bennis "long-in-the-tooth," raises an eyebrow at their primarily anecdotal research for it, rightly dings the book for drawing too much from General Electric, where Tichy worked (he also co-wrote a popular book about the Jack Welch way at GE), and points out that some of their examples don't seem to show much about good business judgment. In fact, he argues,

Mr. Tichy and Mr. Bennis are really writing about learning. Judgment entails not just wide experience and the right values, but also the ability to acknowledge and correct mistakes and -- an even harder task -- to put in place channels of communication that cut through and across hierarchies.
Ultimately, he says,
Throughout, they write about "empowering frontline people," but they seem hung up on finding that single Great Leader. And that improbable quest can cost a fortune.
I read the HBR article when it was out and thought it was a powerful way to frame judgment as a key aspect of business leadership. But that article drew on what Kotkin calls the best chapter in the book. Perhaps the idea does not hold up so well across the broad swath of business.

Tell us what you think below.

In the meantime, here are other reviews and blog posts:

Praise for it from the Big Ideas to Big Results blog: Cracking the Code on Judgment.
An Amazon review that also liked the book.

800CEOread.com lauds its framework for decision-making.

Top leaders share certain crafty talents, USA Today

Judgment on people is key, Detroit Free Press, notes there is no magic formula to better judgment.

The Perishable Pundit ponders Judgment skeptically, amidst a discussion of other aspects of leadership.

A look at how to judge when you don't know, in Shop Talk Are judgment and experience irreconcilable?

  • Michael Fitzgerald

    Michael Fitzgerald writes about innovation and other big ideas in business for publications like the New York Times, The Economist, Fast Company, Inc. and CIO. He’s worked as a writer or editor at Red Herring, ZDNet, TechTV and Computerworld, and has received numerous awards as a writer and editor. Most recently, his piece on the hacker collective the l0pht won the 2008 award for best trade piece from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. He was also a 2007 Templeton-Cambridge Journalism Fellow in Science and Religion.