Biases and Leadership

Author : Gowri S Ramani | Published On : 14 Sep 2021

Biases and Leadership - Are your biases holding you back at work?

We don’t see things as they are – we see things as we are…Anain Nin

In the last article, we looked at some key leadership behaviors expected at the mid-management level to be taken seriously as a leader instead of just a manager and be able to grow further.

This article let us look at what are the common biases at the workplace and how they could derail your leadership journey.

What is Bias?

Wikipedia defines it as Bias is disproportionate weight in favor of or against an idea or thing, usually in a way that is closed-minded, prejudicial, or unfair.

Biases are generally based on our strong beliefs and most of the time we are consciously unaware of the belief or bias or both that we carry. But they can have a huge impact on our behaviors and actions.

So, what are the 5 most common biases, in my experience?

  1. Affinity Bias:

In simple terms, it means we have an affinity for people who are similar to us. That sounds normal, right? If you are from where I grew up, or went to the same college, or worked in a company I worked for before, I inherently like you and trust you more than someone with whom I don’t have anything in common. In India, if we share a common mother tongue that’s another great factor for affinity-based on shared cultural aspects!

So why is this bad and how does it affect our day-to-day work?

First, this affinity could lead to your team having several people with whom you share affinity factors reducing diversity within the team. Reduced diversity typically leads to a lack of different perspectives and could weaken the team in long run.

A very strong Affinity bias can also result in a leader not being or not being perceived as an objective leader – and can be disastrous to the cohesiveness and effectiveness of a team.

How do you recognize if you as a leader are influenced by this?

Take a look at the composition of your team, reflect upon which members you feel most comfortable with, think about which members open up more to you, etc.

  1. Confirmation Bias:

Confirmation bias shows up in our instinctively looking for pieces of evidence that support our belief/theory/perspective rather than looking for evidence to the contrary or information that provides a more holistic view. Almost all of us practice this at one or the other time, on one or the other topic. More often than not, we are a victim of this practice in areas we are most intensely emotionally attached to.

So, how does it affect one’s day-to-day work?

Affirmation Bias is a very difficult bias to become aware of in oneself but it can make our thinking, actions, and decisions narrow or uni-dimensional if we don’t deal with it consciously.

Are you influenced by this?

The way this bias would manifest itself in your behavior as a leader could be: you discourage contra-thinkers in your team, you give more airtime to a member who supports your viewpoint, you hear a lot of Yes and very few No or questions within the team, etc.

  1. Halo Effect:

The Halo Effect comes into play when we think everything associated with a person is great because we KNOW one thing about that person is great. E.g., if a person did a great job in one kind of a project, we assume that person would be equally great in a project or even a different nature. The Halo of greatness is big and a lot of what that person does gets illuminated by the Halo.

How does it show up at work?

You often see in organizations, especially with mid-level employees, if their performance and results stood out in one situation, they get nominated to participate in all sorts of initiatives, even if they are completely unrelated to their area of expertise or interest. Their presence in a project or initiative begins to add legitimacy to the effort.

Are you affected?

See if you tend to send the same person to organization-level initiatives and justify it as (s)he is the only one capable. Do you stop yourself from considering other names or even volunteers from within your team?

4. Horn Effect:

The Horn Effect is the opposite of the Halo Effect. It happens when a negative association with a person is carried across all that the person is associated with. You see this in workplaces when a person’s association with a failed project or initiative leads to a conclusion that the person has failed and hence not given other opportunities.

How does it show up at work?

You often see in organizations, especially with mid-level employees, despite previous successes, a recent failure can prevent the employee from getting other good opportunities. The lingering effect of the latest failure can dim and kill someone’s career.

Are you affected?

See if you tend to reject every time a person’s name comes up for possible new projects or growth.

5. Attribution Bias:

Attribution bias affects how we assess ourselves versus other people and their achievements.

When assessing ourselves, we tend to think our achievements are direct results of our merit and personality; while our failings are the result of external factors, including other people that adversely affected us and prevented us from doing our best.

When it comes to assessing other people, however, we often think the opposite is true. We are more likely to consider the achievements of others as a result of luck or chance; and their failings as a result of their personality or behavior.

How does it manifest itself?

You feel (even if you manage to not show it to others ????) that the results and achievements of your team are BECAUSE of you and you are indispensable for the success of this team.

Biases are unavoidable for human beings – our past experiences and environments build up beliefs that form the basis for biases. Having strong biases affect your behavior at work can derail your leadership journey and growth very quickly.

However, the good news is, once you are aware of biases and beliefs you carry, you can deal with them much better and minimize their impact on who you are or how you are perceived.

Learn to recognize your own biases at the workplace and become a better leader. Partner with a mature coach to discover your limiting beliefs, biases, and blind spots to become the leader you were meant to be. See our offerings at coachmen or visit us on LinkedIn or reach out at gowri@coachlumen.co