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The Top 5 Cognitive Biases Weakening Your Leadership

Wednesday, July 6, 2022 - Joe Kiedinger

We humans have pretty incredible brains. I mean, we learn things on an unconscious level and then apply what we learned to future events—all while being fully unaware. It’s this timesaving, efficient mechanism than allowed our hunter-gatherer ancestors to survive for thousands of years. You don’t need to tell us twice that cave bear = run. We adapted quickly to the dangers we faced.

However, that same mechanism can also cause a lot of trouble. You see, our brains skip ahead a lot and don’t allow us to consciously recognize the full process that’s going on behind the curtain.

Scientists call these mental shortcuts “cognitive biases.” And, in today’s modern world, they can do a disservice to you as a leader if you’re not aware of them.

Here are the top 5 cognitive biases I see during leadership trainings and their effects:

  1. Bandwagon Bias — Have you ever been in a meeting where a few options were presented to a vote and you decided choice A was the clear winner, but as others voted for choice B you began to unconsciously favor B as well? The bandwagon bias may occur because we question our own judgment, wish to avoid conflict or even avoid the effort of defending our choice.

  2. Recency Bias — We tend to give more weight to things that happened more recently while moments from the past fade away. That’s why it can be a struggle to provide a fair performance review for a full year.

  3. Egocentric Bias — If you’ve ever debated in the office, you know how much easier it is to see all the reasons you’re right. It’s much more difficult to quiet that train of thought and consider the reasons you might be wrong. We find it much easier to discover evidence that supports our argument, even when conflicting evidence is all around us.

  4. Anchoring Bias — If you’ve ever been in the market for a new printer at the office, you may have been hit with $5,000 in sticker shock. Later, when you find a second option for $4,000 seems like a steal in comparison to the first. This bias occurs when we rely too heavily on an initial piece of information. Be aware that information that comes first doesn’t always mean everything else should be judged against it.

  5. Overconfidence Bias — This bias occurs when people overestimate their knowledge and expertise in a subject despite lack of experience and skill. It can be harmful in the workplace when unresearched information is communicated by leaders with great confidence, potentially throwing off a team’s whole trajectory. This bias, also known as the Dunning-Kruger Effect, is the subject of my July Dignity Dialogue podcast, so check it out here for an in-depth look.

Test: do you remember the recency bias? Or are you now thinking about the last thing you read?

JOE KIEDINGER

ACTION PLAN: Watch for the next Wisdom on Wednesday where we’ll get to work removing those unconscious biases.

Sources and recommended reading:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/carminegallo/2021/09/27/5-cognitive-biases-blocking-your-success/

https://www.simplypsychology.org/cognitive-bias.html

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