THE IMPACT OF UNCONSCIOUS BIAS ON LEADERSHIP DECISION MAKING
Do you ever wonder why smart, well-intended leaders often make poor decisions? The answer is simple: We, as humans, are heavily influenced by our primary, innate biases. Our biases function outside of our rational and logical thinking and play a fundamental role in the way we sort through billions of stimuli and make decisions daily.
One bias in particular — unconscious bias — is a form of “social categorization,” whereby we rapidly and routinely sort people into groups. Our unconscious mind is what allows us to quickly process everything going on around us, decide which information to focus on, make inferences and assumptions, and feel attracted to some people but not others based on emotions. This is great, except for the fact that the brain operates efficiently, meaning we don’t thoroughly interpret everything we see. In other words, we do not see our world as it really is, we see our world the way our bias allows us to see it.
Our unconscious bias influences the way we make decisions and, perhaps more importantly, leads to collective or societal out-of-awareness agreements about how we behave or what we believe. This has substantial implications when it comes to decision making in leadership. As leaders, unconscious bias impacts us in many ways, but a few concrete examples include:
1. Recruiting And Hiring
“Birds of a feather flock together” is not just a common phrase; it is in our biological nature to gravitate toward others who are similar to us. Our unconscious bias and preference toward similarity are best embodied by the word “fit.” When you hear the word “fit” as it relates to hiring, it is important to ask yourself: who does this person fit with, and who makes that decision?
2. Performance Evaluation
As managers, our evaluation of performance and ability to manage talent is impacted by our unconscious bias. When coaching and providing feedback, this may mean you feel more comfortable interacting with someone who is similar to you, as compared to an individual whose responses you do not necessarily understand. This can be explained by the in-group and out-group phenomenon. Often, performance evaluations are driven by rater bias, not actual performance criteria.
3. Promotion And Succession Planning
When it comes to promotion and succession planning, the influence of unconscious bias is evident when we look at the current configuration of the Fortune 500 CEOs.