Solving the PR problem of Prudence

An effective leader is a careful person who examines all possible choices and consequences before drawing conclusions.

Prudence is a particular attribute of a leader of character that may initially seem at odds with the fast paced world in which leaders now find themselves. With an ever increasing rate of change where the scale of such changes can often be seismic, is not a place where, on first glance, prudence would command much of a place. And yet ... 


In part the lack of “wow” factor around prudence maybe because it is often used in a pejorative way. It appears to be seen as a negative. We have heard it used with a derisory tone by some leaders and with downright scorn by others - less frequently post 2008 it has to be said!!

The PR Problem with Prudence

The PR problem prudence has, is that it can be used negatively in a way to suggest a leader who is overly cautious or wholly risk-averse; such definitions represent prudence unfairly.

Whilst a leader who is prudent may want a greater depth to the data they have before making a decision, being prudent should not be taken to mean someone who will neither take a risk nor make a decision. There is a quality to prudence. It helps balance decision-making (and decision-makers) that rely, perhaps too heavily, on gut-feeling or who bluntly don’t, can’t or won't get involved in deep levels of exploration and due diligence before making a decision.

There is an important difference between being risk-aware and being risk-averse. The latter stifles growth and plays counter to much of the opportunist tendency of leaders. The former is wise and enables risk of any magnitude to be taken, safe in the knowledge that all the available, relevant information, that could have been considered, has been.

Prudence seems more contextual.

An important distinction to make is that someone who is prudent can be so when the situation requires it, they can be said to demonstrate contextual prudence. This is quite the opposite to a leader who is more generally too timid to make a decision. Whilst such timidity may be wholly understandable with some leaders e.g. if they are new or relatively inexperienced lacking the confidence to make a decision is an unhelpful trait and one leaders can find help with through an excellent mentor or experienced leadership coach.

Saturate the data

The major challenge for any leader is when is enough information enough? When is the depth of detail that has been considered sufficient?

From our days of research David and I were advised that academic research can usually come to an end when the same messages, themes or insights are arising, irrespective of how the information is being sought. Therefore, once the data is ‘saturated’ and there is seemingly nothing new to find, then there is probably nothing new to find … at that point in time.

And that is an important caveat.

Many situations are fluid and changing frequently therefore testing may need to continue until an agreed point in time, otherwise a leader’s research could potentially go on ad infinitum and this could lead to a perception from others of being indecisive. You know when enough is enough when you are finding nothing new to add.

Best of luck, Glenn 

Performance Edge Partnership Ltd is keen to help organisations strengthen their leadership bench and grow highly effective leaders of character. When you want help improving the quality of leaders in your organisation we will be only to happy to chat - contact us here. 

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John Lewis
Little Hearts Matter