A Fundamental Decision Making Flaw in Public Officials?

Are our public leaders flawed because they were selected as public leaders? 

The answer would seem to be yes, according a paper by four academic researchers on organizational behavior, which I came across recently (although it was published last November).  Its title and subtitle make the point: “The Decision-Making Flaw in Powerful People: Overflowing with confidence, many leaders turn away from good advice.

Some of their key findings:

“this paper finds a link between having a sense of power and having a propensity to give short shrift to a crucial part of the decision-making process: listening to advice. Power increases confidence, the paper’s authors say, which can lead to an excessive belief in one’s own judgment and ultimately to flawed decisions. …

"In addition to confirming the previous experiments’ finding that more powerful people were less likely to take advice and were more likely to have high confidence in their answers, this final experiment showed that high-power participants were less accurate in their answers than low-power participants. …

"For one thing, organizations could formally include advice gathering at the earliest stages of the decision-making process, before powerful individuals have a chance to form their own opinions. Encouraging leaders to refrain from commenting on decisions publicly could also keep them from feeling wedded to a particular point of view.”

Whether or not you might find this research conforms to your own experience, the last point – gathering in lots of information before the public leaders decide – is certainly not an unrealistic suggestion to improve decision making in many cases.  Today, the Internet and the collaborative discussion tools it offers can make this happen fairly easily. 

© 2012 Norman Jacknis


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