The Perils of Assumption…The Basis for Bias

When a management position is awarded to us, we often have great values that we want to take into our new challenging leadership or management role. We have a clear vision of what type of leader we want to be – value the contributions of the people reporting to us and be respectful in every sense. But it isn’t easy.

One of the biggest pitfalls for many new managers is that they carry around in their head assumptions and biases that will directly affect how they perform as a leader. For example, it is easy to dismiss somebody who you inherit in your team and whose records show they don’t have great educational qualifications – you might assume that because of this they should not be given a key assignment. You might assume that others are more qualified because they have a ‘certificate’.

When taking on new leadership positions never assume that people cannot do ‘x’ or ‘y’. When you get to know people, you can start to make the right decisions based on knowledge of their strengths and weaknesses rather than your assumptions or biases.

Starting out with great intentions as a leader is one thing but they mean nothing unless your actions back up those intentions. To treat everyone equally is a great principle that should always be followed. But if you show ‘bias’ through your assumptions it will soon be noted.

It is difficult to self-analyse but here are a couple of tips that might help you avoid the perils of assumption in leading a new team:

It’s important to become aware of our unconscious biases and work towards change.

To become aware of your unconscious biases, start by educating yourself.
Paying attention to your thoughts and examining your beliefs can help you identify the assumptions you currently hold. For example, do you believe that people will always speak up when they disagree? Do you think that showing your emotions — or crying at work — is a sign of weakness? How do you feel when someone misses a deadline? Do you automatically assume that they are unproductive or incapable, or are you able to extend empathy and listen to their reasons?

The trick is to slow down and investigate your beliefs until you can see the other person for who they truly are. As a leader, it’s easy to think that you don’t have time to pause. But taking a few minutes to question yourself can make all the difference to you and your team. Here are some other questions you can reflect on:

  • What are my core beliefs? How might these beliefs limit or enable me and my colleagues at work?
  • How do I react to people from different backgrounds? Do I hold stereotypes or assumptions about a particular social group?
  • As a manager, do I acknowledge and leverage differences on my team?
  • How would my team describe my leadership style if they were sharing their experience of working with me to others?
  • Do my words and actions actually reflect my intentions?
  • Do I put myself in the shoes of the other person and empathise with their situation, even if I don’t relate to it?

By paying attention to the answers that you come up with you’ll find patterns of thinking that will help you become aware of other biases that you may have.

Our view of ourselves and the world is made up of our life experiences and the lessons we learn along the way. We typically develop unconscious biases as a result of the things we were taught and the observations we made throughout our childhoods and adolescence — at home, at school, in conversations with friends, and through the media we read or listen to.

When someone challenges these long-held beliefs and values, it can be uncomfortable. Instead of getting defensive, pay attention to your immediate reaction. Before acting, take a breath and try to shift your mindset. Approach the situation from a place of curiosity and positive intent. Here are some ways to give a useful response when someone does challenge you…

  • “I hadn’t thought about it this way until you shared your views. Tell me a little more….’’
  • “Thank you for that. I was unaware of it. I’m committed to growing my leadership and am aware we all have some biases. What else can you share with me about the impact of my actions?”

Every ‘confrontation’ is an opportunity to learn and improve your leadership. These discussions will open you up to seeking feedback from others, who can become the catalyst to help you uncover your biases and stop you making those perilous assumptions.

Need a little more help improving your teams management? Contact us at ignite@tinderboxbusinessdevelopment.co.uk. or call us on 01162325231.

The Tinderbox Team