I have felt all my life that good judgment is a critically important skill for any person to have, but especially so for those in leadership positions. Good judgment is such an important attribute that it is often listed first by employers as required qualities of job applicants.

We can easily name examples of bad judgment: drug use, lax financial management, questionable choice of friends and so on. And bad judgment usually leads to bad outcomes.

In business, the success or failure of the organization hinges on judgments made at all levels. Poor judgment has led to some epic failures over the years. For instance, how about these judgment calls:

"Everything that can be invented has been invented," said Charles H. Duell, commissioner of the U.S. Patent Office, in 1899.

"Stocks have reached what looks like a permanently high plateau," said Irving Fisher, professor of economics at Yale University, in 1929.

"I'm just glad it'll be Clark Gable who's falling on his face and not Gary Cooper," said Cooper on his decision not to take the leading role in "Gone With the Wind."

"We don't like their sound, and guitar music is on the way out," said an executive at Decca Records in rejecting the Beatles in 1962.

So what is good judgment?

That's a tough question. Good judgment is the ability to make the best decision possible based on the information you have, without being swayed by others or by predetermined ideas.

A newsletter from PineCone Research offers a roadmap for improving decision-making skills:

What kind of a decision-maker are you? If you don't know, you should take a few minutes to contemplate the question, because once you become aware of how you make (or don't make) decisions, you will be more apt to make wiser choices.

A few of the more common decision-making approaches:

Snap decision-makers. Often people rely on gut instincts when they make quick decisions. While this can work well for some people, it's not always the best way for others. This is because some snap decision-makers make choices based on fear or discomfort with the decision-making process.

Serious option-weigher. While people who make decisions this way are often admired for the careful attention they give to the process, beware of those who practice serious option-weighing to a debilitating extreme. Serious consideration is a good thing in most cases, but be careful not to waste time and energy on unnecessary details.

The flip-flopper. This might seem like the person has weighed each option and made a firm decision, but often, after a few minutes, days or even weeks, the person shifts his or her thinking entirely on the matter. Fear drives these decisions.

In a piece called "Decision Making for Giants and Elves" on the Practical Success Solutions website, Malcolm Harvey recommends a four-step process in order to avoid making poorly thought out or ego-based decisions:

1. Make a decision. You have to face that in decision-making there are consequences -- and then make the decision to face them.

2. Make your own decisions. Don't go to others to make your decisions for you. Take responsibility.

3. Work toward fruition. Once you've made your decision, work tirelessly toward the end you would like to see.

4. Stick with it. Don't let your doubts torment you. You will make mistakes along the way. When you do, pick yourself up and dust yourself off.

Mackay's Moral: Mark Twain said, "Good judgment comes from experience and experience comes from bad judgment."

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.