Observing most people in everyday situations it’s natural to assume that they make rational decisions that are objectively rooted in reality. You and I included. For example, if you are presented with a choice between three options, you might at least pretend that you give each option a fair shake and choose the one that’s most beneficial to everyone involved. However, in my experience, this is rarely true.
Whether it’s a personal choice or a business choice, our thought processes, logic, and conclusions are almost always influenced by innate biases and external factors that we don’t realize. But there’s good news – if you become familiar with what these biases are and some of the signs that you’re letting them guide your thinking and decision making as a leader, you can proactively work at recognizing them and minimizing their impact.
Common Biases You Face as a Leader
As a leader, there are dozens of biases that influence and control your decision making. Here are some of the ones that play a more prominent role:
This bias refers to your underlying tendency to notice and focus on evidence that fits your existing beliefs. It lends to you giving greater credence to something you already believe to be true. In other words, if you love baseball and hate basketball, you’ll have a tendency to only focus on the opinions and facts that support your love for baseball. Anything to the contrary, no matter how true or objective, will be given less attention.
This bias refers to a person’s tendency to simplify data when analyzing or comparing. It occurs when you’re confronted with a set of data and you unintentionally reduce the classification of the data to just two categories (even though there’s a wide range of different categories to consider). As a result, you see things in a very simplistic way. When making complex decisions, this can limit your options and cause you to miss out on important information.
Social desirability bias
This is a type of response bias. It refers to the tendency people have to answer questions in a manner that they believe will be viewed favorably by others. In other words, if someone sends out a survey asking you if you’ve ever participated in time theft at work, the majority of people will say no (even if they have).
If you aren’t careful, biases like these can creep into your thinking and decision making as a leader and negatively impact your company’s performance (and your own personal results).
5 Techniques for Proactively Dealing With Biases in Decision Making
The more aware you become of biases, the more likely that you can identify and address them in a proactive manner so they don’t have a negative impact on your decision making. Here are some techniques for doing this:
We’ve all been part of project post-mortems before. In fact, they’re probably a standard part of the project life cycle within your company. But what about pre-mortems?
A pre-mortem happens on the front end of a project (before you even start). This is a gathering of the project team where you go through everything that could possibly go wrong. You imagine future failure and explore the causes that are responsible for these hypothetical errors.
Pre-mortems may not be the most fun thing in the world. They require you to have a pessimistic outlook and to pick apart every potential weakness of the project. It’s all about identifying and labeling risk so you can make smart decisions about whether or not to proceed.
When you conduct a pre-mortem, you’re forced to be objective. You can no longer only focus on the positives. Instead, you also have to consider that there could be imperfections with an idea or plan. Biases tend to be exposed under the pressure of a pre-mortem.
To get a truly objective and unbiased look at a situation, problem, or challenge, try adopting an outside-in perspective. In other words, think of it like this: How would you approach this situation if you had no affiliation to it and someone came to you asking for advice on what they should do?
It can take some mental gymnastics to truly put yourself in an outside-in perspective, but once you do, you’ll find it much easier to uproot biases from your thought process.
3. Think Through Each Option
If you’re presented with three options for something, don’t just gravitate toward the one you think is best and then pick apart the others with the intention of discounting them. Instead, take the time to think through each option. Do independent due diligence on each one (as if it was the only option available).
4. Scenario Planning
Scenario planning is designed to help you identify different ranges of potential outcomes and the impact these outcomes will have (positive or negative). It allows you to visualize potential risks and opportunities and teach you how to be proactive.
Scenario planning allows you to assert more control over uncertain situations by identifying assumptions and creating plans for how you’ll respond ahead of time. In doing so, you avoid putting on blinders and only focusing on one or two possibilities (which is what biased thinking convinces you to do).
Tapping Your Advisory Network
Sometimes you just need someone outside the company to offer their thoughts. Instead of just performing the “outside-in” exercise in your mind, you can actually bring in someone from your advisory network and gather their thoughts and ideas.
If you’re going to use this option, make sure you have a strong advisory network. Ideally, you should gather opinions from multiple people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and strengths. The more diverse the feedback, the better.