3 Ways To Decrease Your Leadership Bias


There’s a fancy term called “fundamental attribution error” which leaders need to understand. The basic definition of this concept is “that in contrast to interpretations of their own behavior, people tend to (unduly) emphasize the agent’s internal characteristics (character or intention), rather than external factors, in explaining people’s behavior”.

That’s a mouthful.

To put it in simpler terms - we often assume the worst from people when they perform an act which is negative, but when we do something negative we blame it on our environmental factors.

We give ourselves a pass but say others made their mistakes intentionally. If I lose my temper I’ll blame others, my lack of sleep, or the weather. It isn't my fault I did what I did. But when someone else loses their temper, I wonder why they let such a deep character flaw take hold of their personality. It is clear they are less capable/gifted/able/etc than I am.

When we're in conflict with someone, this bias rears its ugly head. And the consequences are disastrous for enhancing a team.

Patrick Lencioni in his book “The Advantage” refers to this error as being one of the biggest barriers to developing trust within a team. But he offers a worthy goal to achieve instead:

"The best way to combat it is to help team members understand one another on a fundamental level and to give them as much information as possible about who a person is and why this person might act the way he or she does. By doing this we greatly increase the likelihood that people will replace their unfair judgments with insight and empathy, qualities that allow a team to build trust and goodwill with one another.”


We view others through our own lenses. We may not even recognize how we are wishing everyone would be just like us. This bias rules our reaction. Even though our logic acknowledges people are unique our unspoken standards leave no room for differences. Our bias then controls our reactions and the conflict increases.

Another way of talking about this is in regards to being more emotionally intelligent. You need to understand how you are influencing others, how you're affecting their emotions, and how you can do a better job of relating to them.

Here are three ways to limit this tendency in your leadership:

1. Go to the balcony – William Ury coins this phrase in his book, “Getting Past No.” The basic premise of ‘going to the balcony’ is ensuring your first reaction in any situation is to step back and view it objectively. Go to the figurative balcony and view the situation from above. Try and remove the emotional response and view it as factually as possible. This can be hard, but very helpful. For further thoughts and tidbits from Ury's book check out a summary found here.

2. Assume the best – In any conflict or interaction, our first response needs to be assuming the best of the other person. If we jump to thinking something was done with an intentional effort to devalue or hurt us, our response will also be negative. Most people are at least decent people at their core. Steven Handel gives us “3 Reasons to Give People the Benefit of the Doubt” in one of his blog posts, and each is worth considering when you are in a relationship with others. Don't assume the worst.

3. Remember everyone is different – No two people are the same, and no two people will react the same. When you observe someone in action, especially in stressful situations, they are acting out of their natural priorities. Perminder Sachdev writes a thorough post on the science of personalities (as well as temperament and character) and points to neurological development contributing to these differences. While we can influence our personality development, it is clear each individual is uniquely wired.

If you’re working on a team, you need to leave room for each other to be who they are. Give people the benefit of the doubt. Learn to understand what makes them tick. Go to the balcony when a situation arises. Fight against your inherent 'fundamental attribution error' and watch your leadership excel.

Most of the time, what you view as an intentional act of frustration toward you and the team is not on purpose. Work through it together from a point of mutual growth, understanding, and trust.

Don't let your bias dictate your reaction.

© 2020 by Cantera Leadership