You make decisions every day. Many of these decisions are driven by muscle memory and instinct, they are influenced by your past experiences and current circumstances. How do all these factors impact your crucial decisions?

The acclaimed 1957 film, 12 Angry Men, is the story of a murder, the value of human life, and how 12 jurors approach decision-making. Through their eyes we see examples of prejudice, ageism, personal vendettas, and external factors influencing their choices.

Here is decision-making according to 12 Angry Men, and our thoughts on how best to make decisions.

At the beginning of the film, the audience learns that 11 of the 12 jurors think that an 18-year-old kid is guilty of murder and should receive the death penalty. Only Juror #8 (played by Henry Fonda) says the boy is not guilty.

As the film develops we learn about each character and what influences them. One juror appears racist, another is influenced by his personal relationship, another just wants to get out in time for the Yankees game. Throw in 90 degree weather, humidity, and 12 sweating men in the deliberation room.  Some of the men want only facts. Others are easily swayed when Henry Fonda presents a reasonable argument for the boy’s innocence.

While the others were content to decide without deliberating, Henry Fonda’s character was determined to lead the jurors through a discussion of the facts to come to a wiser, more thoughtful decision. It was difficult, even emotionally painful for some of the jurors to change their perspective, but in the end, Juror #8’s influence was persuasive leading to the “not guilty” resolution.

It can be hard to see what influences our own decision-making.  Here are three takeaways:

1. Neutralize Physical Distractions

Be careful to neutralize physical or environmental distractions or at least acknowledge they are there.  Is it too hot? Change locations.  But if you can’t escape the heat, recognize that it may be effecting you negatively. Perhaps you’re feeling rushed. Slow down. Recognize the undue credit you’re giving your distractions.

2. Examine Other Influencers

Your decisions are influenced by a myriad of factors. Review what factors of your experiences, current priorities, goals, relationships and so on might influence your decision unjustly. Examine if the influence is rightly placed or if it should be neutralized as well. Try to isolate only the relevant influences that should bear weight in your thought process.

3. Seek Additional Perspectives

When you think you may be mired in unseen influences it’s time to get additional perspective to help reveal the truth.  When you face difficult decisions or uncharted territory seek a mentor, manager, or peer who can help you see the facts through your own bias.  Good leaders know how to pose questions that present challenges in a new light.  Seek a leader near to you who can do this for you and be prepared to be this perspective for another in their time of challenge.

As a leader, you face many decisions every day.  From the mundane decisions of prioritizing your to-do list, to the more complex decisions of setting strategy and allocating scarce resources.  Practice an occasional audit of your decision-making process so that you are not giving weight and value to factors that do not deserve it.

That leads us to a core underlying factor: your values in decision-making.  Stay tuned for Part 2 of decision-making according to 12 Angry Men where we’ll take a look at the influence of personal and corporate values in decision-making.


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