Guess what, you’re biased and so am I! Even the most educated individuals who are trained to be completely objective are biased and can lack the ability to be impartial. Because of the way our brains process information we are all susceptible to unconscious biases that are much less comprehensible to our own awareness and intent. Our brain subliminally associates stereotypes, beliefs and feelings through mental exemplification of concepts in our memory either positively or negatively. Therefore, it is very likely that your insentient pre-conceived thoughts are cramping your leadership growth!
It’s imperative to challenge your own beliefs and pursue impartial truths. However, many rarely ask themselves for evidence of what we believe to be true. We see what we want to see. Ironically, confirmation bias tells us that even if someone else challenges our convictions our minds could seek one-sided evidence confirming our original thoughts. Remember when Trump was adamant that Obama was not born in the United States? By questioning conventions of our own theories we can overcome obsolete reality supporting a truer picture.
Look for all the facts. When only a certain group of people or specifics are represented critical information is detached causing selection bias to occur. This can happen involuntarily or intentionally when presenting metrics that support a predetermined notion without bearing in mind all particulars. One example could be typecasting in the hiring process. In, “Little Black Stretchy Pants, The Unauthorized Story of Lululemon” Chip Wilson writes about how originally Lululemon hired a type of employee he called “type-A Wallstreet personalities.” Paradoxically, pigeonholing didn’t embody the desired culture of family and work-life balance so he rebuilt a more diverse team. By considering all variables in the selection process pre-conceived thoughts can change.
Enhanced meaning on actions tied to the end goal is more important than activities related to today. This thought process recognizes the difference between urgent and important. Neuroscientists say that our brains are hardwired to seek immediate gratification instead of long-term reward, coined as present bias. Therefore, people tend to place a higher value on smaller near gains rather then waiting for something bigger to come down the road. It asks the question is today’s outcome more important then a stronger upcoming effect? As humans we tend to lack patience and want what we want now! Focusing on long-term initiatives rather then immediate benefit can propel you forward in achieving larger rewards.
Achievement is received through repeated failures. How we handle failure can also be attributed to a self-serving cognitive bias. Generally as humans we naturally pat ourselves on the back when we succeed and characterize it due to our efforts and talent. On the other hand, when we fail we seek to reason the cause on external factors and barriers. “Our strategy did not work due to market conditions.” Most of us use protective measures to prevent feeling any type of discomfort when we are wrong. Getting comfortable with being uncomfortable is where learning and growth emerges. By looking inwardly when failure arises we can accept it as part of the journey and overcome.
Although there are close to 100 implicit biases that all of our brains are susceptible to the last one I will touch on is the ikea effect. It has been well studied that as humans we value the fruits of our own labor and effort. When instant cake mix was introduced to the market in the 1950’s the aim was to save housewives time and effort. Yet, it barely made any sales. Once they re-engineered the product with a requirement to add an egg instant cake mix was flying off the shelves. The ikea effect means that we have a tendency to place higher value on things that we’ve poured our own sweat and tears into. Therefore, someone who has built their department from the ground up or was the key lead on a project could fall into the trap of placing a higher significance removing neutrality for imperative changes.
Social cognition factors like implicit bias affect the way we think, see, act and feel towards the world around us. Deep rooted in our worldview we each have a unique blueprint developed through a singular path of past experiences influencing behavior and decision-making. By recognizing how our brains interpret and process information through conditioned learning we can begin to understand why as humans we are prone to unconscious bias. Conscious leaders elevate their emotional intelligence through exposure of limitless perspectives. They are shown to make stronger fair-minded decisions through raised awareness and open viewpoints. We do what we do because of how we think. Recognizing that we create our own experiences is a powerful way to form a stronger understanding of others and ourselves. By enriching our capacity in vital thinking shifts we can move into conscious thinking patterns augmenting our leadership potential for quicker growth. As John Maxwell says, "leadership is about seeing the possibilities in a situation while others are seeing the limitations."
Melanie Vienneau, National Director of Talent is a 14 year People and Culture Professional specializing in developing progressive People strategies that create impact.