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Bias and Leadership

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Conscious or unconscious bias? Either way it's all about how you think about it.

Did you know there are over 100 recognized cognitive biases? Depending on the source you look at there are over 180!

There are biases that we are aware of called conscious bias, and those that we are unaware of are called unconscious or implicit bias.

There are several other kinds as well:

Attribution bias – we attribute someone’s behavior to a defect in their character instead of a circumstance. Example: someone drives by you at a high rate of speed on the interstate. You perceive them as a jerk instead of thinking they may be late for an appointment or have a family emergency.

Halo bias – we have a positive impression of a person and therefore look upon their actions and performance as all positive. Example: a worker you feel is smart as a leader and did an excellent job on one initial project, you keep picking for subsequent projects.

Affinity bias – we tend to like people who think and act like us because they feel familiar to us. Example: a job candidate you interview has had some of the same work experience and expresses the same opinions you hold when interviewing for a position.

Confirmation bias – we only look for information that confirms the beliefs and opinions we already hold. Example: you research only ways a project will be beneficial for the organization and don’t look for information that challenges your beliefs.

Conformity bias – we have our views change or influenced by others around us. Example: you set the tone as a leader to work through your lunch break at your desk. Others around you start doing the same thing.

If it has not become obvious already, these biases can cause real harm in the workplace. As a leader, you need to be mindful of the biases you and your team hold. In order to attempt to counteract the negative consequences of biases there are several actions that may help:

  • Accept and understand that we all have biases, learn about different types of biases

  • Reflect on past decisions to see what part biases could have played a role in decision-making

  • Step back when making a decision and consider different viewpoints

  • Actively solicit diverse perspectives on tough issues

  • Ask for candid feedback about biases

We would be foolish if we told you are could eliminate all biases. As humans, our brains are wired to make snap judgments, believe what is comfortable for us and go with what we know. (I suggest reading “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman if you are interested in knowing more about how the brain works). However, by taking several conscious steps as leaders, we can hopefully overcome the biases that we do become aware of, and avoid some of the disastrous consequences that bias can lead us to.

Reflection Question – What will I do to understand more of the biases I hold as a leader?

Next Topic – Winter break and Leadership and Love

LEAdeRNship will be taking an extended holiday break from the blog and coming back in 2023


Thinking Fast and Slow - Kahneman

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