Being able to make the right decision at the right time is an essential part of being a good leader, but a difficult skill to learn. Balancing time constraints, the future success of your business, and your employees needs is no small task. The struggle to be decisive under these circumstances is complicated by natural biases that can sabotage our efforts to make the best choices.
Perhaps the best and only antidote to personal biases is self-awareness. While you might not be able to avoid these biases from rearing their heads, you can recognize them when they appear and attack them to mitigate their effects. Here are some examples of biases you need to be aware of when weighing your options:
1. Rush to solve bias. Act with urgency, but be patient enough to gather enough data to make an informed decision. Being in a rush also opens the door for rest of the biases on this list below to come into play.
2. Anchor bias. In this case, the impetus of your entire process is relying on one “anchor fact” that may be incorrect or unreliable. If you are anchored to skewed information, your entire process will be off-kilter from beginning to end. Verify key facts so you avoid starting from the wrong point.
3. Overconfidence bias. There is a big difference between trusting your gut and being overconfident. For leaders, this is an all too common bias that can be difficult to overcome. You are probably used to handling dissent and ultimately doing what you think is best for the company. Perhaps the best way to avoid making bad decisions fueled by overconfidence is to ask for and listen to outside opinions. They may not change your mind, but they may give you a more realistic perspective.
4. Availability bias. If you don’t actively seek out additional research analysis, then you will end up relying (more heavily) on the information that is most readily available to you. This puts you in a position where you could be missing out on key facts and figures that would influence your decision. Take the time to be thorough and thoughtful.
5. Confirmation bias. You will naturally be drawn to, or even actively seek out, information that confirms your beliefs. The best way to combat this bias is to play devil’s advocate and take the other side of the argument. This can help you to see the full picture and avoid simply ignoring information that you might find unpleasant.
6. False Consensus. It can be all too easy to assume that the way we think is normal and that other people inevitably think the same way. This particular confirmation bias is especially unsurprising because humans tend to surround themselves with family and friends that typically share the same beliefs and value. We gravitate towards people who are similar in because they validate our self-awareness and give us a greater sense of self-esteem.
Unfortunately, the false consensus bias can be problematic when it comes to business decisions. By picking a team that all thinks the same way, you could be setting yourself up to entirely miss an alternative argument.
7. Halo effect. In this case, we have psychological tendency to be biased towards those who make a positive first impression or those who we perceive to have admirable qualities. For example, if are vetting project proposals, you are more likely to base your bids from people who you think of as smart or attractive. In fact, humans tend to correlate physical attractiveness with intelligence. These “feelings” about a person are powerful enough to override more rational thinking that relies on facts.
8. Optimism bias. Being a glass half-full kind of person is generally thought to be a good thing, but it can also mean that are willing to ignore obvious risks because you assume that only good things will happen to you. It is good to have a healthy sense of fear and realize that no one is immune to risk.
On the other hand, underestimating risks also allows us to overcome fears that can prevent us from taking risks that have the potential for great reward. This particular confirmation bias comes with as many potential benefits as it does pitfalls.
9. Self-serving bias. When things go wrong, people look for explanations and justifications. According to the self-serving bias, we are more likely to attribute our own failures to external forces and outside circumstances. However, when evaluating other people and their failures, we hold them more accountable for the end results. While this behavior serves to protect our self-esteem, it also means that we end up blaming other people for our own shortcomings.
Being a successful leader and business person requires a unique set of skills. As a leader, your team is looking to you to make smart decisions that will move the company forward and take advantage of opportunities before it is too late. You need to be able to rely on your instincts, but you also need to be aware of any confirmation biases that may be coming into play and influencing your decisions. A little self-awareness can prevent costly mistakes.