May 14, 2021

A Question of Judgment – or What T.S. Eliot and Sir Andrew Likierman Have to Say About Principal Selection!

The Superintendents’ Corner:

In The Harvard Business Review of January-February 2020 and in The Economist of July 18, 2020, I came across two fascinating articles on research being done by Dr. Likierman of the London Business School on the nature of judgment and its role in leadership.  The reason that these articles caught my eye was a career-long examination of the characteristics of an effective principal and the uses of those characteristics in the selection, training, and professional development of principals.  I had long believed that, in the end, the two most important characteristics one could possess as a principal and principal candidate were good judgment and decision-making.  I also believed it was likely almost impossible to define judgment and even less likely to assess it fairly and fully. In addition, I felt that good judgment and effective decision-making were inseparable.

That’s where the greatest poet of the 20th century came into my thinking.  In “The Sacred Wood” Eliot espouses the concept of an “objective correlative” which Eliot described as “the complete adequacy of the external world to the emotion.”  An Eliot scholar later defined it as “an artistic and literary technique of representing or evoking a particular emotion by means of symbols that objectify that emotion and are associated with it.”  Somehow, that helped me make the bridge between Eliot and Likierman, poet and professor of Management Studies respectively.

To me, judgment is an emotional (in the most positive sense of the word) and highly internalized response to an issue; decision-making is the objective (in the sense of external) manifestation to that internal response.

When Likierman talks about judgment, he brings decision-making right into the discussion as it should be.  Let’s look at what he says.  First, he defines judgement as “the combination of personal qualities with relevant experience to form opinions and make decisions.”  Next, he goes on to describe what he believes are the five sub-sets of good judgment.  These include:

  • Taking in information
  • Deciding whom and what to trust
  • Summarizing one’s personal knowledge through checking any prior beliefs or feelings
  • Summarizing the available choices
  • Making a decision on the basis of that information

At each stage he suggests that the decision-maker must engage in a process of self-questioning such as whether he/she has the requisite experience and expertise to make the choice and whether the option he/she choses is practical and will likely be successful.  At this stage, he is approaching some of the same kinds of think that Herbert Simon does in Administrative Behaviour when he talks about “satisficing.”

It seems to me that there is ample room here for exploring the way we select and evaluate principals. Let’s look at selection.  Still the most common method of selection is the formal interview which is often preceded by the submission of a letter of interest, a curriculum vitae, or a professional portfolio – or some combination thereof.  That interview takes the form of a series of behaviour-descriptive questions which are situational in nature and allow a candidate to be judged against a standardized set of criteria that are widely accepted:  Communication, Organization and Planning, Focus on Student Learning and Student Advocacy, Community Relations, Managerial Skill Set etc. – all of which are fine as they are.

But where is Judgment and Decision-Making, the two most important qualities?  Why are we not in the business of making observations on these two key ingredients of effective leadership?  Perhaps the reason is that we have not had, up until now, some kind of paradigm to taxonomy to use as a basis for a new kind of questioning and response analysis.

It may be that Likierman is starting to show us the way.  It would seem to me that the next stage is to take those five sub-sets noted above, begin to define what we mean by them, add indicators for analysis and then determine which form of selection process (interviews, case studies, assessment centres or simulated presentations) are most revealing of the qualities we have deemed so important. Likierman (and Eliot) have made a great start.  Let’s see how we can add to their thinking and, in the process, make better choices for schools and kids.

Dr. Dan

Interested in being the lead district to address this important revelation?  Click here for:  Principal & Vice-Principal Appraisal and Selection.