Hannah Anderson discusses the issue of discernment in her book All is Good: Recovering the Lost Art of Discernment, which was named the best book in the “Christian Living” category of the 2018 Gospel Coalition Book Awards. She defines discernment as the ability to sort between a host of options and pick what is good. She tells us that discernment carries the idea of judging the merits of something, being able to distinguish between good and bad and what is best.
She states that in order to make good decisions, you must become a discerning person, a person skilled in wisdom and goodness itself. At the same time, she states that people who are confident in their own ability to make good decisions shouldn’t be. How are we to get this discernment? Anderson tells us that God will give us discernment when we ask Him for it.
Discernment is a key attribute of leadership. I would go so far as to say that it is an essential for a good leader to have discernment. I had to make many difficult decisions as a leader. Here are three situations in which discernment was needed for me, and where I would often go to the Lord in prayer for wisdom:
- Performance reviews. I’m sure I’m not the only leader who found completing performance reviews to be the least favorite aspect of leadership. In the organization I worked in, for most of my career we had annual performance reviews, with a mid-year check point. Discernment is needed to differentiate the performance of your team members. I was fortunate in nearly 38 years to only have been involved in a handful of terminations. It is a leader’s responsibility to set performance expectations, coach as needed and hold their team members accountable for their performance. I worked with many excellent performers over the years, but many times it was a challenge to discern whether a team member’s performance in a particular year was expected for their job level and experience or if they had actually achieved expectations. Those decisions were among the most difficult I had to make.
- Leadership identification and selection. Good organizations are always planning for leadership succession, developing those emerging leaders in the pipeline to replace those who will one day be leaving the organization. Unlike conducting performance reviews, mentoring individuals who desired to move into a leadership position was one of my favorite aspects of my job. In our organization we did semiannual reviews of our up and coming leadership talent. Good discernment was needed to determine whether an individual was just an excellent performer, or whether they had the potential to be a successful leader. Not only were these important decisions for leaders to make, they were critical to the careers of the individuals we were discussing.
- Resolving Conflict. The issue of conflict between two or more people is something not only applicable to a leader, but for anyone – parent, teacher, etc. Thus, discernment is needed to “sort between a host of options and pick what is good” as Anderson states. Discernment is needed because it will often be the case in a conflict where the people involved will tell you diametrically opposite views of a situation, leading you to have to discern which is true, though oftentimes the truth is actually in the middle. This is an area that I, and perhaps you as well, could still use improvement in.
Discernment is important in all aspects of life. These were three situations in which it was important for me as a leader. What other examples could you give?