| Sep 23, 2021

The Simple System You Need to Keep Your Biases in Check and Make Great Decisions

A critical part of being a leader is making the tough calls. By using these seven steps, you can ensure unexpected bias isn't leading you astray.

All of us have biases. If you’re lucky, yours occasionally will benefit you. But often, your brain’s tendency to rely on patterns and emotional tags (i.e., feelings attached to memories) can throw you under the bus. If you really want to up the odds that you’ll make more good choices than bad, you need to admit that it’s challenging to spot your own biases and use a systematic way to stay objective and get back on track.

7 Steps to Better Decisions

In “Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions,” Andrew Campbell, Jo Whitehead, and Syndney Finkelstein assert that there are three major biases or “red flags” that can lead you to make a bad choice – inappropriate self-interest, distorting attachments (bonds to people, places, or things), and misleading memories. They developed a 7-step process to identify those red flags and move forward.

  • Step 1: Lay out all the choices you have. For instance, maybe you have to decide between having someone on your tech team write some code or bringing in an independent developer.
  • Step 2: Figure out who’s going to be involved in the choice. Maybe that’s just you. But it could be you, everybody in your C-suite, stakeholders, or even your customers. 
  • Step 3: Focus on the decision-maker you think is going to have the most influence on the decision. That could be someone with the most experience or seniority, the biggest investment, or the person who commands the biggest amount of respect in the office. 
  • Step 4: Investigate whether your main decision-maker has any inappropriate self-interest or distorting attachments. Sometimes these are easy to see from the outside, such as if public financial records show that your decision-maker already personally has invested in the startup you’re thinking about partnering with. But sometimes you’ll only be aware of them if you dig a little bit and ask some more questions face-to-face. 
  • Step 5: Check for any misleading memories that could give your decision-maker a skewed perception of the situation. For example, maybe in their previous work, they learned that first reports typically aren’t reliable, so they assume the first data you offer isn’t accurate either.
  • Step 6: Repeat steps four and five with the next most influential decision-maker. 
  • Step 7: Put some safeguards in place if you find any bias. Your first safeguard choice is to bring some fresh eyes or information to what you’re doing. Good examples would be conducting a new survey or talking individually to different industry experts. But, you can also set up more debate on the situation so all the options are challenged thoroughly. Committees work well here, but even initiating open conversation on your social platforms can be helpful. Lastly, you can put stronger governance in place. That typically means you don’t get to do anything until at least one person above you signs off. 

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Why the System Matters

Good decisions obviously are a must for any business leader because they keep your business profitable and expanding. That’s just basic math, the bottom line. 

But, underneath that, people follow people they trust. They’ll only trust you if you can prove that you show good judgment consistently. Using the system above, or one similar to it, makes it more likely that the decisions you make will end in wins on a regular basis. It’s an easy way to gain credibility and earn a following

And even underneath that, leadership is a tough job. It takes confidence. Guess what builds your confidence. Wins. When you use this kind of system and wins start rolling in for you, you can look back and feel solid in your ability to be out in the front of the pack. That can lead you to take even bigger reasonable risks that set you apart.

Lastly, real leaders don’t stay in the driver’s seat forever. They make sure someone else can take the keys. By incorporating this process into the way you work, you teach others how to look out for everything you’ve built. 

In a Procedure-Based Environment, a System Against Bias Is a Strong Asset

Most professionals are already good friends with procedures. They’re used to applying them to tasks and goals, but you can apply a procedure to ensure that your biases don’t get the best of you, too. Doing so is as good for your credibility, confidence, and legacy as it is for the bottom line. So, take the leap. Try the steps out. You just might end up with the best results you’ve ever had. 

By Dr. Steven Ghim
Executive Author

Cosmetic Dentist, Dr. Steven Ghim Charlotte Dentist

Dr. Steven Ghim is a cosmetic dentist who also provides general and comprehensive dental care. view profile

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