3 Biases Every Leadership Team Needs to Avoid

TSP • @myTSPnet


Every member of a leadership team brings something unique to the table. Whether it be his or her work experience, background or personality, leadership teams are comprised of unique individuals with different leadership styles. While many of these differences are positive, members of leadership teams can also contribute cognitive biases to the group.

In 1972, Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman popularized the term cognitive bias to describe the underlying biases that influence human decision making and prevent us from being objective. Fifty years later, cognitive biases are more prevalent than ever in business. Human reasoning is rarely 100% rational, so it’s important to understand common cognitive biases in order to avoid falling victim to its effects. Outlined below are three common biases leadership teams need to avoid.

Confirmation bias describes an individual’s tendency to seek information that confirms existing beliefs. At its worst, confirmation bias sways individuals to only seek out information that upholds their beliefs and to ignore information that challenges their beliefs. This can be detrimental to the productivity of a leadership team.

A common example of confirmation bias in the United States is the inclination of people to consume news outlets that confirm their political views. In order to approach political matters more objectively, people should follow multiple news outlets to get a more well-rounded perspective of issues.

In the business realm, members of a leadership team have likely experienced prior success and failures that contribute to their opinions. While prior experiences are important to consider, members must go into every meeting or project with a fresh, open mind. Even though confirmation bias is a natural human tendency, if your leadership team recognizes its existence, they will be more likely to think objectively.

One of our most basic human desires is to be accepted and agreed with. Even people in leadership positions struggle with speaking against the majority consensus. The bandwagon effect influences people to adapt their behavior or thoughts to the actions of others.

For example, if the CEO and executives of your company have all come to a consensus and you disagree, it might be easier to agree than to voice your opinion. However, as a member of the leadership team, it’s your duty to voice your input. Every member of a leadership team has strong credentials and provides valuable commentary.

Today, the bandwagon effect has influenced many aspects of our society. While it can be difficult to speak against the majority, leadership team members must be bold enough to do so. There is no place for bandwagoners on leadership teams.

When making important decisions, leadership teams often spend hours researching and in discussion. When a decision is made, members are proud and excited for its effects to come to fruition. Because of this, it is easy to view the decision in an optimistic light. The tendency for people to overly concentrate on the positive results of their decisions is known as the choice-supportive bias.

For example, when we reminisce about the decisions we have made in our past, like what car to buy or where to attend college, it’s easy to focus on the positive memories that resulted from these choices. In reality, there are probably more things we should have considered before making those decisions and more flaws that resulted from those decisions we never considered.

Choice-supportive bias occurs because as humans, we want to believe that the choice we made was the best and correct choice. Recognizing the choice-supportive bias doesn’t take away from the positive effects that resulted from the choices we’ve made. Instead, it can allow your leadership team to objectively analyze past successes and failures in order to achieve more success with future decisions.

As humans, we’re inherently biased. In order to be successful, leadership teams must understand and recognize cognitive biases. While it’s impossible to be completely objective, these are some precautions leadership teams can take:

  • Be aware of cognitive biases and have your team members acknowledge the biases they often fall victim to.
  • Comprise your leadership team of diverse personalities that still uphold the values and goals of your company.
  • Search for information that contradicts what you believe and see if there’s validity in these contradictions.
  • If you don’t agree with what someone’s saying, speak up in a respectful way.
  • Ask for input from everyone on the team.
  • Be open-minded.
  • Don’t ask loaded questions.
  • Don’t rely on rumors, past successes or past failures to dictate your decision.

While there are many cognitive biases that hinder your leadership ability, the confirmation bias, bandwagon effect and choice supportive bias are three of the most prevalent. Encourage your team members to become familiar with potential biases and always strive to make objective, well-rounded decisions.

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