How to Overcome Cognitive Bias and Make Better Decisions as a Leader
Leadership is all about making decisions.
Whether it’s choosing the right strategy, allocating resources, or making personnel changes, leaders are constantly faced with choices that will shape the future of their organisations. However, despite their best intentions, leaders are not immune to cognitive bias that can distort their judgment and lead to suboptimal outcomes.
Decision-making is a critical aspect of leadership, and it can be challenging when our own thoughts and emotions get in the way. Tyler Franko, co-founder of Dynamic Code, like many leaders, has struggled with the impact of cognitive biases on decision-making. But through experience, education and experimentation, he has learned to overcome these biases and make better decisions that drive success. In this article, we’ll explore the ways in which cognitive biases can impact leaders and offer practical strategies for overcoming these biases and making more informed, effective decisions.
What is cognitive bias?
Cognitive bias refers to systematic patterns of deviation from rationality in judgment, often influenced by unconscious emotions and beliefs. These biases can lead individuals to perceive, process and recall information in a way that is not representative of reality, leading to systematic errors in decision-making. Some common examples of cognitive biases include confirmation bias, where people tend to seek out information that supports their existing beliefs, and the sunk cost fallacy, where people persist in a course of action because of investments they have already made. Cognitive biases can impact individuals in all walks of life, including leaders, and can have significant consequences for organizations.
What is the difference between cognitive bias and confirmation bias?
Cognitive bias refers to the systematic and predictable ways in which people’s perception and judgment can deviate from objective reality. Confirmation bias, on the other hand, is a specific type of cognitive bias that refers to the tendency to seek out and give more weight to information that confirms one’s existing beliefs or opinions. Confirmation bias leads individuals to ignore or dismiss information that contradicts their beliefs, making it difficult for them to consider alternative perspectives or make objective decisions. In other words, cognitive bias is an overarching concept that encompasses a wide range of systematic biases in judgment, while confirmation bias refers to a particular type of cognitive bias that affects the way people process information.
The real cost of Cognitive Bias within leadership
Tyler Franko has broken down 3 key points explaining how leadership is hurting the bottom line and slowing down growth.
- Poor Decision-Making: Cognitive biases can impact leaders’ ability to make objective decisions, leading to suboptimal outcomes that hurt the bottom line. For example, the sunk cost fallacy can lead leaders to persist in a failing strategy because they have already invested resources, while the availability heuristic can cause them to overestimate the probability of unlikely events.
- Missed Opportunities: Leaders who are influenced by cognitive biases may miss important opportunities that could drive growth and increase profits. For example, if a leader has an unconscious bias against a particular type of innovation or market, they may overlook promising opportunities in that area.
- Decreased Employee Morale: Cognitive biases can also have a negative impact on employee morale and engagement. For example, if a leader is prone to the halo effect, they may have an overly positive view of certain employees and overlook their flaws, leading to an unbalanced and demotivating work environment. Similarly, a leader who is influenced by negativity bias may focus excessively on the negative aspects of their employees’ performance, leading to decreased morale and engagement.
- Awareness and Education: The first step in overcoming cognitive biases is to become aware of them and understand how they can impact decision-making. Leaders can educate themselves on the most common biases and their effects, and seek out training and resources to help them recognize and counteract these biases.
- Encourage Diverse Perspectives: Leaders can also encourage diverse perspectives and challenge their own assumptions by seeking out input from a variety of sources and considering alternative viewpoints. This can help to counteract the effects of cognitive biases and lead to more informed and objective decision-making.
- Implement Decision-Making Processes: Finally, leaders can implement structured decision-making processes that encourage objective analysis and minimize the impact of cognitive biases. For example, they can use decision matrices, cost-benefit analyses, and other tools to evaluate options and reduce the influence of emotions and unconscious biases. Additionally, they can establish a culture of continuous improvement and encourage regular reflection and feedback to identify and address biases as they arise.
Cognitive bias can have a significant impact on the decisions made by leaders, leading to suboptimal outcomes and missed opportunities. However, by becoming aware of these biases, encouraging diverse perspectives, and implementing structured decision-making processes, leaders can overcome these biases and make informed, effective decisions that drive growth and success. By taking steps to counteract the effects of cognitive biases, leaders can ensure that their organizations remain competitive and continue to thrive in an ever-changing business landscape.
Here are three recommended books that you should read consider reading; utilise the resources available to you.
- “Thinking, Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman: This classic book by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman provides a comprehensive overview of cognitive biases and how they impact decision-making. Kahneman explores the ways in which our emotions and unconscious thoughts can influence our judgment and offers practical strategies for overcoming these biases.
- “Blindspot: Hidden Biases of Good People” by Mahzarin R. Banaji and Anthony G. Greenwald: This book provides a comprehensive overview of implicit biases and their impact on decision-making. The authors draw on a wealth of research to demonstrate the ways in which our unconscious biases can influence our perceptions and offer practical strategies for overcoming these biases.
- “The Art of Thinking Clearly” by Rolf Dobelli: This book provides a concise and accessible overview of common cognitive biases and how they impact decision-making. Dobelli provides practical examples and strategies for overcoming these biases and making better decisions, making it a great resource for leaders looking to improve their decision-making skills.
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