The Power of Leadership

Executive Vitality™: Blood Sugar and Decision Making

Executive Vitality: Blood Sugar and Decision MakingHave you ever been in a meeting and become so hungry that you would agree to just about anything to have the meeting end? Being aware of the things you might say or do when you are hungry can help you avoid sacrificing your composure or making bad decisions.

Great leaders ensure they maintain a high level of composure, so it is important to understand that eating habits and blood sugar levels can have an immediate and direct impact on one’s decision-making, openness to risk-taking, communication, and ultimately, credibility. And the impacts can affect others’ lives.

Don’t make decisions when you are hungry and do be aware of things you say when you are hungry, I have a towel in my kitchen emblazoned with this message: “I am sorry for the things I said when I was hungry” – that statement can be taken as either regret or an apology.

From parole decisions and risk-taking to faulty decision-making on the part of organizational leaders, it is not a huge leap. A study of judges found that those who had eaten just before having to decide whether to grant parole or not were more likely to decide in favor of the accused’s parole. Right after lunch or a snack, the odds of being granted parole soar to a high of 65% and then as the judge’s hunger pangs take hold, plummet to nothing. See Justice Is Served but More So after Lunch-How Food Breaks Sway the Decisions of Judges, Ed Jong, Discover Magazine, April 11, 2011.

Other studies have shown that, when people are hungry, they are more likely to make risky decisions. When they are sated, they are more risk-averse. See, National Institutes of Health, Your Decisions Are What You Eat, NIH, May 17, 2013. The potential downsides of hungry decision-making vis-à-vis risk are obvious.

You owe it to yourself, your direct reports, colleagues, and ultimately, the organization and its stakeholders to pay attention to your metabolic status. That is a somewhat academic way of saying: “Take good care of yourself. Eat when you need to. And don’t make decisions if your blood sugar is low.”

Ways to avoid the hunger trap:

  • Say, “I need to postpone this decision. I will get back to you.”
  • Say, “Can we postpone our meeting until after lunch?”
  • Carry calorie-metered snacks with you. A physician I know carries 10 almonds with him and administers them to himself as needed.
  • Don’t skip meals. Make your state of mind and body a priority. This is not being selfish; it is being a good steward of your organization.

Have you ever made bad decisions when you actually needed to take a meal break? What can you think of that would prevent this in the future, in addition to the suggestions above?

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