Are You A Biased Leader?

2 min read
7 February 2022

One of the essential characteristics required from leaders is their ability to make decisions. As we know, the higher they are in the organisation, the greater responsibility they have—and the more their decisions will impact many others in quite varied, extensive and even unexpected ways.

An effective leader must have the ability to make crucial choices quickly, in high-intensity, high-stakes environments, with limited knowledge. This distinctive strength is one of the main components of truly successful leadership.

Do you think your decisions are affected by your biases? No? Or…not too much? Read on.

Our primitive brains carry the experiences of all humankind over many millions of years. These parts of our brains are especially driven by quasi-automated learning ingrained long ago related to our understanding of possible danger and how to defend or protect ourselves. All of that knowledge, which is currently largely unconscious in most of us, has been crucial to keeping us alive. But is it still as useful as before? Not necessarily. At least not all the time. 

We can start by saying quite simply that the negative influence of these ingrained, non-conscious, and automated patterns results in what we now call biases.

In the business environment, this process has great importance as far as the way we lead our teams, the decisions we make, the impact of those decisions on results, and, especially, what our attitude will be when we see that our decisions are not working as expected or differ from others’ opinions.

Kahneman was one of the first researchers to understand the power, the extent, and the mechanisms by which our non-conscious mind influences our daily life.

He defined two systems in the way our brain functions. System 1 is fast, effortless, uncontrolled, without self-awareness and runs in automatic. System 2 is slow, effortful, controlled, with self-awareness and reflective. His work clearly demonstrates that, unbeknownst to us, System 1 is basically ruling our daily decisions and actions.

Our responses to the outside world originate in the parts of our brains that are best suited to certain kinds of situations and not others. Unfortunately, the modern business environment is not the sort of context System 1 should oversee. This is in large partly because System 1 is profoundly, inherently and inevitably biased.

Mastering our instincts and emotions is the path to effective leadership. 
Carlos Davidovich

Where Do Biases Come From?

Together, the reptilian brain, where our instincts are located, and the emotional, or limbic, brain host what Kahneman described as System 1 processes. Our rational brain houses what Kahneman calls System 2. Basically, our biases are located in our reptilian and emotional brains, with the rational brain taking up the rear as the lazy fact checker.

System 1 ruled over millions of years of human evolution, governing interactions in the prehistoric realm in the safest and smartest way. But is this protective stance conducive to excellent leadership in the present-day business environment? Not so much.

Now, of course, you’d probably like to use your considerable initiative and power to dispose of these pesky biases. After all, these qualities brought you to where you are today, right? Impossible. The only concrete possibility for arriving at a perception of reality that approximates objectivity and rational thought is by being aware of how—and how much—our biases influence us.

Watch Carlos’s Brain-Friendly Channel Session

Hosted by: Ricardo Gonzalez
Guest: Carlos Davidovich

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