The Importance of Bias in Effective Leadership

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I’ve recently been conducting research related to bias in interviewing and hiring and in doing so uncovered some excellent and surprising information on how to build a greater awareness of ones bias in the hiring process.  This research has also unintentionally helped me develop a more acute awareness of the role of bias and it’s influence not only in hiring, but also beyond.

Bias in its basic definition is described in a negative light; but in its purest form does not have to be seen as such. It can be equated in the same vein as discerning (a positive term) because in the end it’s all about that — making a judgment based on certain criteria, and we know the better the judgment, the better the outcome.

When you look at the source of bias and how it is developed, here is where the dilemma surfaces. Whatever bias or preferences you have in any situation has been shaped and cultivated from your collective life experience or life conditioning. That conditioning has shaped who you are, crafted your capabilities, molded your beliefs, tested your values all through the filter of your innate wiring — which some call personality. It’s that conditioning that has made you the leader you are today, and in that you could say your bias (part of your conditioning) on some level has served your success. And yet, that same collective experience can unknowingly work against you and those you lead.

That same collective experience can unknowingly work against you and those you lead.

One of the most popular areas of professional development for which I conduct seminars is creative and innovative thinking. It’s an area that the IBM Institute for Business Values proclaimed through a survey of 1,500 CEOs as one of the most important leadership qualities. In fact, Richard Florida in his book, Rise of the Creative Class states, “Ideas are the new commodity of the 21st century.”  Most of today’s leaders would agree!

And yet, giving attention to your ideas, deeming them credible as well as the ideas of others, can easily be undermined by your very own bias.  Perhaps you’ve discounted an idea because of the person delivering it. Your bias towards their appearance, personality, or even current work performance has you judging the value of the idea before it’s even been uttered, accompanied by this thought, “Surely this person can’t come up with a credible idea.”

Giving attention to your ideas, deeming them credible as well as the ideas of others, can easily be undermined by your very own bias.

Or, because of past experience or past conditioning, a potential solution pops into your mind and is quickly discounted with the phrase, “that probably won’t work”, even though it has yet to be tested.

The dilemma of bias is that the very benefits of bias (or discernment), which has supported and enhanced your leadership capabilities, can also be the source of being close-minded, judgmental, discounting potential talent or value as fast as a Blink. The result is you become the unconscious victim of your own success.  Yes, your success can limit your success, and bias can play a role in that.

Your success can limit your success

I believe an essential practice of a growing leader is nurturing a keen awareness of the role bias plays in how they lead and manage their own talent and the talent of others, and ultimately the profitability of their company. Notice I said a “growing” leader.  To grow and be creative and innovative, you’ll need to be willing to stretch beyond your current preferences or biases. Let’s not sabotage the exciting possibilities that await all of us by not owning and managing as best we can the presence of bias.

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Image credit: jjayo / 123RF Stock Photo

JoAnn Corley is the Founder, CEO of The Human Sphere™, a consultancy that helps individuals and companies increase earning potential through holistic talent management. She also speaks throughout North America on key professional development topics. She is an author of several books and creator of the employee training app-The 1% Edge Portable Coach. She sees herself as a champion of human potential expressed in her writing, speaking and consulting.

  • daviddiaz1975

    Blink. The result is you become the unconscious victim of your own success. Yes, your success can limit your success, and bias can play a role in that.close-minded, judgmental, discounting potential talent or value

    Well success seems to defined by geography side of the tracks or weath.

  • Douglas

    Interesting idea presented here…thanks. I can also see where the term discrimination can be used both in a negative and positive light. “People discriminate against others”. “People have discriminating tastes.” I think it is important to separate negative and the positive like you have done. Appreciate your look at the concept of bias. I plan to write about leadership bias soon.
    Doug
    http://www.theleadermaker.com

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  • http://www.thehumansphere.com joanncorley

    Thanks Douglas — yes that’s the “catch 22″ of the terms. Words do have different meanings and uses. If we only see one view, we miss out on it’s complete value!

  • http://www.thehumansphere.com joanncorley

    Yes, and the importance of this article to bring awareness so that it can be
    “managed” at whatever level possible.

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