Are You Hiring Deciders, or Drifters?

Recent research confirms that top performers ranging from managers of major league baseball teams to customer service reps on the store floor have one thing in common: they are Deciders. And there are plenty of them out there just waiting to be recruited.

In the last decade, renowned industrial psychologist Timothy Judge at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza School of Business has discovered a set of four characteristics that are found in high performers in virtually every industry, every job level, and every variety of circumstance from boom to bust. Together these four characteristics make up a sort of super trait called a “core self-evaluation.” As Judge describes it, the core self-evaluation is a person’s fundamental bottom line evaluation of their abilities. That self-evaluation has an enormous impact on their job performance.

The Decider Advantage

In one fascinating study, Judge and his team tracked the progress of more than 12,000 people from their teenage years to middle age. He found that core self-evaluations predicted who did and who didn’t capitalize on the advantages life dealt them. With only a bleak view of their capacity to handle life’s challenges and opportunities, even the brightest kids born to executives and doctors failed to reach as high an annual income as their less fortunate classmates.

By contrast, the supremely confident sons and daughters of roofers and plumbers who had only mediocre SAT scores and below average grades earned a 30%-60% higher income than the smart kids with dreary views of their abilities. And those kids with all the advantages of intelligence and pedigree plus a firm belief in their competence earned three times as much money as their equally blessed peers.

I refer to people with a high core self-evaluation as “Deciders.” Deciders have such a firmly rooted belief in their ability to shape the events more than events shape them, that they aren’t afraid to make decisions. That simple willingness to make a call gives them a tremendous advantage that snowballs throughout their life. As the 13th century Turkish sage Nasreddin said “Good decisions come from experience. Experience comes from bad decisions.” People who simply make more decisions — both good and bad — develop good judgment faster.

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For example, let’s say you’re interviewing Matt and Jen for a job. Both Matt and Jen have seven years of experience in their field, but Jen is a Decider and Matt is a Drifter. Matt’s MO is to drift through each day deferring decisions to his bosses and his colleagues. Jen, on the other hand, makes decisions all day, every day. Even if they began their careers with equal abilities, seven years later Jen’s judgment will be far sharper than Matt’s simply because she has made more decisions. That’s why Timothy Judge’s colleagues have found that Deciders sell more than other employees. They give better customer service. They adjust better to foreign assignments. They are more motivated. They experience less stress. They like their jobs a heck of a lot more.

Spotting the Next Superstars

Unfortunately, judgment is a squishy concept that you won’t find on a resume. But spotting Deciders is much easier. Judge’s simple 12-question “Core Self-Evaluations Scale” is free on his website. In the meantime, here’s what to look for during the recruitment process:

  • Self-efficacy: People who believe they can overcome challenges are more successful in virtually every sphere of life including work.
  • Internal locus of control: Does this employee take control of his work, or does he always point to outside circumstances when his projects go astray?
  • Confidence, not narcissism: There is an important difference between having a high self-evaluation and being a narcissist. Does the employee pitch in when teammates need help, or badmouth co-workers they view as a threat? Are they receptive or defensive when you receive feedback?
  • Emotional stability: Employees who aren’t easily discouraged are less likely to succumb to stress and burnout.

The competition for top talent is growing fiercer with each passing day. Hunting for Deciders might just give you the secret ingredient for success as a recruiter.

Nick Tasler is an organizational psychologist and award-winning author of The Impulse Factor: An innovative approach to better decision-making (Simon & Schuster, 2008). Through his work with Fortune 500 organizations, non-profits and academic institutions, he is teaching new ways to consistently make choices that strengthen our businesses and enrich our lives. The founder and CEO of Decision Pulse, Tasler has written for a wide range of publications including BusinessWeek and Psychology Today. For more information about Nick Tasler and Decision Pulse, visit


9 Comments on “Are You Hiring Deciders, or Drifters?

  1. Great article. As many companies try to do more with less, hiring the right person for the job has never been more critical. These traits are a great measuring stick to make sure your new hires will be an asset to your team.

  2. Thanks Nick.
    1) “If you’re business requires over-achieving superstars at every level to succeed and thrive, it’s either run very badly or your in the wrong business” Instead try the”Robust Recruiting” working to refine your processes (and line of business) so well that you don’t need only superstars to win.

    2) The ability to decide may be necessary, but it’s not* sufficient- one needs to make the RIGHT decisions, at least enough of the time. George W. Bush was “the Decider”, but look at where his decisions got us….

    3) Let’s get back to Matt and Jen. -the interviewees.
    a) Your company is a highly achievement-oriented entrepreneurial enterprise. Jen has go to where she is through being “a hard-charging, self-starter who goes for the brass ring, and not just the low-hanging fruit” She’s done what needs to be done to meet and exceed expectations, even if that means cutting some corners at times… She’s obviously the right person for the job here…
    b) Your company is a very traditional, centralized, and bureaucratic large company. Matt
    has worked for these types of companies his entire career, and since they’ve been occasionally been highly-political snake pits, Mat quickly learned that the secret to his success was to avoid making the wrong decision, and finding out the decision (in a quiet, unobtrusive way) that his superiors would prefer. He had a strong sense of loyalty to whoever was on the winning side of a given argument struggle, and though not always successful (nobody ever is), he was able to progress quickly and smoothly through the ranks. Unless Matt was after YOUR job, he would be the right person for your company.

    POINT: Not everything is as simple as it seems…




    Overconfidence Effect
    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
    The overconfidence effect is a well-established bias in which someone’s subjective confidence in their judgments is reliably greater than their objective accuracy, especially when confidence is relatively high.[1] For example, in some quizzes, people rate their answers as “99% certain” but are wrong 40% of the time.

  3. We agree that that top performers are confident ( not arrogant) – know they can overcome challenges, self aware – don’t blame others , have very good judgment and have the ability to deal with stress. However, equally as important to all of these characterstics is their ability to work with others. In other words, their ability to get others to do what they want to accomplish their goal. The best performers in an organization always needs the help of others ( their manager, peers, vendors, customers etc…) to succeed.

  4. @ Jim: “We agree”. Who is “we”?
    Also, this presumes that the top performer requires the interaction of many other participants, that their performance is not due solely to their own efforts. If the best performers in an organization always needs the help of others, then this can explain the conclusion that many of the most successful business leaders are functional sociopaths who are able to very effectively manipulate others into doing their will (



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