Leadership and prejudices
The characteristic of our intuitive function is to "put in order" reality on the basis of models that we have formed over time. We read the outside world not "as it is", but as we interpret it. Theoretically it should be the other way around, or at least that's our belief.
First a thing is known "for what it is" and then a series of evaluations and interpretations are drawn from it. But no. Not only that, but our feeling is that of expressing perfectly rational and detached judgments, that is, anything but preconceived. And, to better deceive ourselves, let's construct a series of “a posteriori” explanations that support our argumentative logic on a given theme. The intuitive activity is based on scraps of information that we integrate with the information we already have and from this mix we try to draw, in a short time, a plausible conclusion.
The theme is that when we think and judge intuitively, and are aware of it, we are aware of the approximation of our evaluation. This becomes complicated when we think we are thinking rationally and this is not the case. But what is that deceiving us? What do we carry inside that deludes us to think rationally, when in reality it is not so? They are our prejudices, in English, biases. The concept of prejudice is much more complex than it seems. It is not just the prejudices that all of us inevitably have about people, places, football teams, colors, numbers and whoever has more… worse for him or her.
These are prejudices that, after all, we know perfectly well that we have and, rightly or wrongly, we decide to indulge. Everyone has happened to defend a position in which they did not fully believe. In these cases, it is well known that we are supporting our own prejudice, trying to complement our discourse with some pseudo-rational expedient of more or less capable sophists. The thing gets complicated, and a lot, when our prejudices pollute thoughts and judgments that we believe are absolutely immune from conditioning.
The prejudices referred to here, they act on an unconscious level and work on our ability to rationalize. These are remnants of our evolutionary path, when the speed of reading a situation was more important than a thorough understanding of it. You understand well that, for those who try to make rationality the main tool of the leader, these are terrible enemies, to be known and defeated or, at least, to be better controlled.
A good way to control our prejudices is to know where they attack us most often and to prepare an adequate defense. Below, I try to list 3 of the most damaging prejudices that most leaders (as people) are subject to: when the speed of reading a situation was more important than a thorough understanding of it. You understand well that, for those who try to make rationality the main tool of the leader, these are terrible enemies, to be known and defeated or, at least, to be better controlled. A good way to control our prejudices is to know where they attack us most often and to prepare an adequate defense.
Below, I try to list 3 of the most damaging prejudices that most leaders (as people) are subject to: A good way to control our prejudices is to know where they attack us most often and to prepare an adequate defense.
1. I am number one!
Many leaders think they are far better than they actually are. Their judgment is always more complete and precise than that of others. Their reasoning is deeper and better grasps the sense of the situation. The others are more approximate and superficial and do not know how to see that specific thing, which to them appears very clear and indisputable. They feel above average.
Because? Because it is essential to have a relationship of self-confidence. It is an essential condition for the subject, who uses it to differentiate himself from the rest of the world and to attribute to himself exclusive and superior importance. It is a declination of the survival instinct, through which we "love each other" and instinctively avoid dangers and pains, seeking pleasure and well-being.
How can a leader stem this heavy prejudice? By cultivating a complex feeling like humility. Our cerebral cortex provides us with the most adequate tools to rationalize our behaviors and block ancestral excesses. Humility is not just a behavior, it is a complex thought that a leader must cultivate for himself/herself. It will allow him/her to place himself out of the perennial competition with others, to incorporate everything that comes from him/her from the outside and increase the level of his / her performance.
2. If he's right, I like him and he's smart!
From childhood we need confirmation, and as adults it is no different. We do not spare our resentment, if not hatred, towards people who contradict us. This is why being contradicted, for some leaders, is a terrifying and destabilizing experience. "But how can he not understand that he is wrong and that I am right?" Their prejudice, in this case, not only works "against" someone, as in the previous point, but in favor of someone else. And whose?
But who gives him / her right, of course. Leaders affected by this bias develop a natural sympathy and esteem for those who think like them. They tend to surround themselves with people who see the world from a similar perspective to theirs. Conversely, we isolate and marginalize people who think differently. It is a very penalizing prejudice, because it does not favor any growth, as it excludes any productive and constructive confrontation. How can a leader rationalize the desire for confirmation?
Systematically putting those who confirm their ideas in crisis. A leader must get used to always asking for an explanation of why someone gives his / her consent, not accepting it self-satisfied. A leader who asks those who think like him/her to explain why they think that way, may find that they are wrong. Hearing someone, other than oneself, support their arguments, put the leader in the situation of having to listen and understand, therefore, to grasp any weaknesses of the reasoning. It's a bit like swearing. When we say them we feel legitimized by the situation, but when we hear them we grasp all their vulgarity.
3. It's all bad!
There is little to do, we always tend to remember negative and unpleasant experiences more often than serene and joyful ones. And if we remember the latter, we often do it with melancholy for the past time, just to never give ourselves a joy. Between good news and bad news, the leader's attention will certainly be catalyzed by the bad news. Its energies multiply, along with anxiety and fear, in the presence of a problem or negativity.
The "negative" frightens him/her, but he is also a bit fascinated by it. A leader with this approach always draws a dark veil in the environments in which he presents himself. Also because it is terribly contagious. Often a mishap is enough to change the mood and negatively affect one's work.
He does not feel immersed in an aquarium of negativity, from which every bubble can only explode and bring out problems. Unpleasant events are one of the occurrences of the day and of life in general, but they do not have a monopoly. A rational leader isolates events and thinks about the things that need to be done, not the priorities dictated by the problems. Shaking off negativity is not easy, but it can help sharing and engagement.
When one is together to tackle a thorny issue and the approach is aimed at finding a solution, the problem does not vanish, obviously, but the climate is one of focus and concentration, not of useless negativity.
The issue of becoming aware of one's own prejudices is thorny and complex and deserves a lot of attention and self-analysis. Clearly, unconscious prejudices escape any control, but a rational self-awareness helps the leader not to passively accept his / her own psychological automatisms, which appear "disguised" as rational motivations.
About the author
Giuseppe Ando is a C-Level & Executive Coach - Associate Partner at the acclaimed Marshall Goldsmith Stakeholder Centered Coaching. With a career that presides at the crux of the Venn diagram of Passion, Skills, and Experience, Giuseppe’s reputation as top executive coach has spanned decades. Among his many accolades, he is also recognized for his unique ability to understand and inspire those he coaches to excel professionally and personally while also delivering their organization’s desired results.