The article looks at a study of prisoner parole decisions that showed,
“Prisoners who appeared early in the morning received parole about 70 percent of the time, while those who appeared late in the day were paroled less than 10 percent of the time.”
They attributed the reason to “decision fatigue” affecting members of the parole board. I found this passage fascinating and eye-opening:
The mental work of ruling on case after case, whatever the individual merits, wore them down. This sort of decision fatigue can make quarterbacks prone to dubious choices late in the game and C.F.O.’s prone to disastrous dalliances late in the evening. It routinely warps the judgment of everyone, executive and nonexecutive, rich and poor — in fact, it can take a special toll on the poor. Yet few people are even aware of it, and researchers are only beginning to understand why it happens and how to counteract it.
…No matter how rational and high-minded you try to be, you can’t make decision after decision without paying a biological price. It’s different from ordinary physical fatigue — you’re not consciously aware of being tired — but you’re low on mental energy. The more choices you make throughout the day, the harder each one becomes for your brain, and eventually it looks for shortcuts, usually in either of two very different ways. One shortcut is to become reckless: to act impulsively instead of expending the energy to first think through the consequences. (Sure, tweet that photo! What could go wrong?)
The other shortcut is the ultimate energy saver: do nothing. Instead of agonizing over decisions, avoid any choice. Ducking a decision often creates bigger problems in the long run, but for the moment, it eases the mental strain. You start to resist any change, any potentially risky move — like releasing a prisoner who might commit a crime. So the fatigued judge on a parole board takes the easy way out, and the prisoner keeps doing time. (All emphasis LP.)
So what does this mean for all of us as leaders?
1. It’s important that we get a little introspective with this knowledge. Do you see this pattern holding true for yourself? If so, think about what you can and should adjust in regard to how you work with your teams so that your own decision fatigue is not negatively impacting them.
2. We also need to consider our responsibilities to our teams when we “go to bat for them” with our own bosses and our boards. Should we begin making our most important requests during the morning and early in the work week?
3. Widening the lens, what does this mean for us as leaders in society? Should we ask whether justice is being served given this particular study? What about the fact that we know political deals get done during the wee hours of the morning? These examples are just the beginning… Do we as leaders have the ability to use this knowledge to make changes in critical processes?
Steve Woodruff and I will be addressing these questions and more when we host the next not-to-be-missed edition of Leadership Chat on Twitter tomorrow night, August 30th at 8:00 pm Eastern Time. Please join us! ~
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Photo is Question Mark by the Italian voice.