Politics, People and Leadership

— Don’t get them confused

Politics. Damn.

It just seems to permeate everything we do today. And not, necessarily, in a good way. “We the people” have seemingly become unable to have common conversations about so many issues.

donkeyLeaders… Don’t fall for it. This communication impasse, this idiotic inability to have constructive dialogue, this desire to be “right” about all things partisan that will forever be based in opinion (no matter how strongly you believe), cannot become part of who you are. Not in your professional leadership role.

Do I mean that, outside of work, you can’t have opinions? Of course not. Do I mean that you shouldn’t vote, participate in the political process, or even strongly debate those outside of the workforce on issues that are important to you? Of course not, have at it. We should do all of those things, as — in my opinion — we have an obligation as citizens to do. But don ‘t take citizenship all the way to jerkship. You can show your opinion without showing your ass. Really, you can.

ephantAnd I’m not speaking of literal bias here. I don’t mean the near-criminal act of assuming that a subordinate who doesn’t see your political views is somehow damaged. I hope we don’t even have to go there—if we do, we’re in worse shape than I thought.

What I do mean is, you simply cannot let the common political bias affect how you lead others at work. And you’ve got to be ever vigilant, as these things can sneak in insidiously. I see them occur, maybe unintentionally, in three distinct areas (all a part of confirmation bias): ascribing intent, generalizing from a specific, and fake evidence (not to be confused with fake news).

Ascribing intent. When we assign or ascribe intent to someone’s actions, we assume (and you know what that means) that we know what someone was thinking when they did something. And of course, we don’t. Unfortunately, we can only see someone’s actions or behaviors; their intent is not actually something that we can see. We just make that stuff up.

In leadership, we do this by saying “she’s late again; she obviously does not care or respect her coworkers, or she wouldn’t do this crap.” We’re assuming that we know why a particular act occurred, in this case showing up late. Newsflash — we don’t. We only know she’s late. And just to really mess with your head, even if someone tells you why they did or didn’t do something, you still don’t know their real intent. That’ll make your head dizzy…

Generalizing from a specific is particularly dangerous, since we actually do have a piece of evidence from which to base our opinion. Still, we can’t do it. A single specific incident, action or event does not necessarily mean that we can assume every further similar action or event will occur the same way.

He completed a single project well, therefore he’s “all good now,” ready to fly solo. She disagreed with your decision on something, now she’s your resident devil’s advocate and clearly not a team player. Don’t do that… it’s disingenuous, and frankly, one of the worst biases we can harbor as a manager.

Fake evidence is simply lying to ourselves. We see a subordinate speaking with our boss—she’s ambitious, she must be after my job. Frank over in Accounting was driving a Porsche the other day… where did he get that kind of money? Carla is my best performer, but I overheard John say he heard her mention she was thinking about starting a family… Correlation doesn’t imply causation. You know that, right? If 95% of Fortune 1000 CEOs wear black shoes, then if you wear black shoes, you’ll become a F100 CEO. Wait… what?

Picture1Man, I hate to bring up Bob Newhart once again, but I must… must, I say. Stop it!

These biases, and others like it, allow us to bend our thoughts into facts whenever we like. We can have opinions, but without real evidence, they remain opinions. Frequency doesn’t make opinion fact; accepted by many doesn’t make them fact. Opinions spoken loudly don’t magically become fact.

Just opinions. Your opinions as a leader are a valuable tool; your judgment, which is opinion laced with experience, is what can make you successful. Done incorrectly, though, it just makes you a tool, and part of the problem.

Don’t be a tool. Use your objectivity liberally, and tone down the subjective wishful thinking, since that’s all that confirmation bias really is.

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