As recruiters, we’re always on the lookout for strong leaders to fill key roles at our client companies. But even the most seasoned executives can fall victim to innate tendencies of the human brain that work against good leadership. In this newsletter, we’ll explore 3 ways our brains can secretly undermine our ability to lead effectively, and some tips to overcome them.
Our brains are wired to seek out and favor information that confirms our existing beliefs and assumptions. As leaders, this “confirmation bias” can cause us to only hear from team members who agree with us. It can also lead us to discount evidence that goes against our current strategy or point of view. Be aware of this tendency and actively seek dissenting voices on your team. Surround yourself with people who aren’t afraid to challenge your thinking.
The Curse of Knowledge
Once we know something, it can be hard to remember what it was like not to know it. As leaders, this “curse of knowledge” can make it challenging to communicate complicated ideas or processes in ways newcomers will understand. Don’t assume your employees are all on your level. Take time to simplify concepts and give clear instructions that take into account different experience levels.
We tend to take credit for successes and blame failures on external factors. This distorts our ability to honestly self-assess. Temper this bias by actively seeking critical feedback from team members. Analyze setbacks without putting others on the defense. Make it safe for people to critique you constructively.
The Halo Effect
Our first impressions of people often color how we continue to perceive their abilities. With the “halo effect,” we may give high performers more leeway and treat their later mistakes as outliers. On the flip side, early negative impressions can cause us to be overly critical of an employee’s efforts to improve. Provide consistent feedback based on actual performance data instead of emotions or assumptions. Give credit and constructive feedback where deserved, without preconceived notions.
Believing abilities are fixed hinders growth and innovation. With a “growth mindset,” we can get better at nearly anything through effort. Seek ways to stretch yourself beyond your comfort zone. Embrace a culture of experimentation, and don’t penalize reasonable failures. Instill this mindset throughout your team.
Our minds take these instinctive shortcuts to make fast judgments and conserve mental energy. But as leaders, we must rise above our hardwiring. Be vigilant of biases, simplify complex information, and assess performance accurately. With awareness and effort, we can lead teams effectively and objectively. Our brains like to take mental shortcuts. But great leadership requires rising above these hardwired tendencies. Stay self-aware, invite challenge, and foster a culture of growth.