Three leadership flaws we should all be mindful of:
1. Trusting your gut
You’ve hired Alex. During the interview your gut told you he was perfect for the job. You high-five your gut instinct for being awesome. But what was driving this gut response?
During the interview, your unconscious brain scanned its database and found Alex’s manner to be similar to high-performing David. Without further analysis, your unconscious decided Alex was perfect. But is he? Alex might be a nightmare. Like all our brain functions, our gut response is prone to cognitive errors.
Your unconscious brain makes decisions for you all the time. You might think you’re applying rational criteria because your quick, intuitive decisions are immediately and effortlessly backed up by post-rationalisations made in your prefrontal cortex. Like a high-profile sportsperson making a total idiot of themselves the night after a big win (leaving the coach to justify their behaviour) your unconscious is the drunk rugby player, and your prefrontal cortex is the coach.
Our ‘intuitive or gut response’ has been elevated to a mystical level. Disappointingly, it’s just another error-prone brain function. Just because it feels right, doesn’t mean it is.
Tip: if it’s an important decision, strong emotional reactions either in the positive or the negative need to be scrutinised. Test your observations and conclusion with other people.
2. Consistency bias
You’re talking to your team about the strategy you launched last year. Cracks are beginning to emerge, but you want to appear certain and definite. Even though a course correction may be required – something is stopping you from recognising it.
‘Consistency bias’ arises because our brain dislikes reconsidering decisions. Once a decision has been made it takes mental energy to re-examine your thinking. Like an overzealous librarian who’s trying to limit the number of books you take out, your brain discourages you from considering alternate sources of information.
To appear in control, you stick to your guns – the strategy will work if everyone executes the plan. Which is fine if the strategy is right, but not if the realities of the situation are secondary to your need to appear consistent.
Tip: evaluate earlier decisions by examining the contextual factors that supported the decision. If the context has changed, it follows that the decision may also need to change.
3. Primary attribution error
You’re late because the traffic was horrendous. Emily also blames the traffic, but in your mind it’s because she’s undisciplined.
‘Primary attribution error’ is the tendency to attribute personality flaws or character failings to other people rather than considering situational influences – yet when we fall short, it’s because of external influences, not our character failings. We know our circumstances intimately, whereas we are blind to other people’s, which can lead to self-righteousness and narrowed vision.
Tip: cultivate your capacity to give others the benefit of the doubt. Be open to discovering other people’s reality.
Who is Annie McCubbin?
Annie is a ground-breaking thought leader, committed to elevating the quality of critical thinking in business and in life. After an early career leading a successful retail operation, Annie trained as an actor, and won major roles in theatre and television, including A Country Practice, Mother and Son and Water Rats.
Founding COUP with David McCubbin in 2001, Annie trains, coaches, writes, directs and occasionally performs in corporate dramas, delivered live or via video.
For the past 20 years Annie has worked with management teams and executives across ASX-listed companies, private businesses, industry associations and women’s business groups to help people:
- Cut the drama that wastes time, energy and opportunity
- Illuminate the cognitive errors that hold people back
- Enable more effective leadership communication
- Develop personal strategies to grow in power, impact and influence.
Her unique expertise peels back the layers of conventional corporate speak and opaque corporate cultures and helps people make practical sense of their daily dramas. Her focus is on illuminating how flaws in our thinking can make people susceptible to poor decision-making and exploitation. She manages this without a single inspirational poster, scented candle or retreat in sight.
Annie has unique and clarifying perspectives on critical thinking and authenticity, which help clients make practical sense of their daily dramas.
Her book, Why smart women make bad decisions: and how critical thinking can protect them was published in June 2021.
– The Coach Place Global
Image by @magictype
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