The Leadership Shackle of Hasty Judgements


The saying ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water’ is an effective warning to us as leaders against destroying the good while we reject the bad. This is applicable in many situations that we come across on a daily basis. We find daily examples of ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ in reports in our media of people making judgemental jumps without having all the facts before them. The judgement game is played by many of us every day without necessarily understanding the negative impact it may have on our own leadership confidence and progress.

I remember quite vividly the first game I was chosen to play for our school rugby first team. I was somewhat young and inexperienced and this was a great moment in my life. However, I had recently moved into the school hostel and the dietary change caused me to have several boils on my one hip. The boils were painful but I kept it a secret fearing that I would lose my precious place in the team. Of necessity I held back in the actual game.

Negative attitudinal habits are like boils on our hips. They are shackles that hold us back.

Leadership shackles

Our ability as leaders to cause movement of people and of situations is often shackled by negative habits picked up in the past. We do not always confront our negative shackles because we may tend to justify them.

One of the most prevalent shackles we come across in leaders across the board is the tendency in our society to make harsh judgements of others, especially those in high offices. I expect some of our readers may react somewhat emotionally to this subject because of our right to free speech. The current epidemic of corruption and violence washing through our nation like a tidal wave certainly gives us much justification to be concerned. We believe in freedom of expression and we shudder to think of living in a society that suppresses our beliefs and democratic rights.

The tone of this article is not about criticising the right of free expression. It is about raising concern at some of the negative spinoffs to us as leaders when we allow our freedom of expression to become a negative shackle that inhibits our growth and performance as leaders.

Leadership Platform is in the business of leadership development. Leadership confidence to move people and situations around us is heavily impacted by our attitude towards the society and environment in which we live. We have found through hundreds of personal leadership conversations over the years that the leader who flourishes best under pressure is somebody who sees the positive in situations around him or her and refuses to be shackled by the negative actions of others.

Over the years we have found the following pattern emerge as a result of these many interviews with leaders:

  1. Our preconceived opinion of the person we interview is almost always changed during the interview. This proves the point that it is almost impossible to form accurate opinions or make mature judgements of others without meaningful personal contact. Yet in our society this is done all the time. We make snap judgments of people without personal contact and proper communication.
  2. The vast majority of people we meet tend to respond positively to a positive win-win attitude when approached. They also tend to respond negatively when confronted with a negative attitude towards themselves. The pattern emerging from this is that our attitude tends to draw a similar attitude response from others.
  3. Personal contact and interviews may result in differences of opinions on certain topics. But a positive win-win approach tends invariably to build respect and common ground between those involved in the process.
  4. Lasting friendships and relationships are built around personal and respectful contact.

President Jacob Zuma and Julius Malema

Adriaan Groenewald wrote several articles some time ago in the Business Report on personal leadership interviews with President Zuma and also with Julius Malema. Many leadership positives came out of these meetings and Adriaan picked up some static from good friends who felt that nothing good should be said about these ‘corrupt’ leaders. We also wrote in a subsequent article in this column about the price paid between these two leaders because of a lack of personal one-on-one contact over the years. Julius Malema was known at one stage for his vociferous support of Jacob Zuma yet a few years down the line they became enemies. Our research indicates that over the years these two leaders never had personal one-on-one discussion.

From a leadership perspective, the tendency to judge others without sincere one-on-one contact can generate serious trauma and damage.

What about you and I?

Obviously most of us cannot necessarily invest in personal conversations with top leaders that we disagree with. What we can do though is to reflect on the damage we may do to our own leadership attitudes by developing a habit of forming negative judgements without having all the facts at our disposal. This applies to all our comments about others around us, under us and over us in seniority.


Looking for the good and positive in others and in situations around us is a precious gift of character.

We find that a misconception exists in our society that those people who have a positive attitude towards pressure situations around them are blind to the realities around them. Generally speaking this is a false perception. The positive attitude that we are speaking of is the fruits of tenacious trust in processes that confront negative perceptions and arrive at positive aspirations in the course of a process driven discipline. Such people are never blind to possible dangers and challenges around them. They simply commit themselves never to get bogged down by negative feelings.

The kind of ‘positive’ attitude that ignores negative perceptions and challenges is not positive. People who generate that kind of attitude may well be loose cannons.

We welcome feelings by our readers on this subject.

This article appeared in the





Adriaan, as an accomplished author and leadership advisor, has been interviewing and working with top leaders for more than 15 years. He is the Co-Founder and CEO of Leadership Platform. (Twitter: @AdriaanG_LP)

Call: +27 (0)12 653 3022

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Leadership Platform is a specialist leadership development consultancy, focusing on creating measurable impact to the bottom line through the enhancement of leadership understanding and engagement.


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