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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

12 ways to overcome bias and strengthen decision-making skills

Bringing a wide range of views to the table leads to outcomes that better benefit all.

12 ways to overcome bias and strengthen decision-making skills
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]
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In companies and organizations, it’s a recognized truth that the road to the final decision ends with the leader. But that doesn’t mean a leader has to walk that road alone. In fact, as leaders are quick to note, it’s better if they don’t. Like anyone else, they still have plenty to learn.

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The more perspectives, experiences, and viewpoints that go into a decision, the more likely it is that the decision will be in the best interests of the company and everyone it serves. Below, 12 leaders from Fast Company Executive Board share how they ensure their perspective isn’t the only one that influences their decisions.

1. MAKE SURE EVERYONE IS INVOLVED IN IMPORTANT DECISIONS

I do my best to empower the incredible people on my team to make decisions and speak their minds about the direction of our company. While our goal is to serve our customers, I know that we can’t get there without our team members. When it comes to decision-making, I believe it’s important to make sure that everyone feels involved in the process so that even if we have to make a decision that some disagree with, they know that their voice was heard. And when it comes to decisions, you don’t have to stick with a bad decision just because you took a long time to make it—when new information presents itself, make new decisions. – Harold Hughes, Bandwagon

2. CREATE A “KITCHEN CABINET”

Leaders need to be personally responsive and nimble in our ever-changing world. For some, this means being overprepared with systems, checklists, and the like. For me, it is about personally being prepared for whatever may come my way. To be ready, I regularly meditate and journal my days as a means of self-reflection. I look for areas of strength that I want to continue and areas of weakness that I need to improve upon. Recognizing my own biases, I also have my own “kitchen cabinet,” comprised of family, friends, and colleagues that I go to for help with precarious situations, overall guidance, and the like. Most importantly, I expect them to “check” me when needed as well. – Melissa Bradley, Ureeka

3. BEGIN DIVERSITY EFFORTS WITH YOUR LEADERSHIP TEAM

I have surrounded myself with diverse perspectives, beginning with our executive team. The C-level leaders at The Trevor Project come from a variety of backgrounds––race and ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity, nonprofit and for-profit work experience, age range, geographic location, and more. This allows our leadership team to be mindful of any biases and make decisions that are in the best interests of the organization as a whole. It’s a hiring practice that extends into our executives’ teams as well—The Trevor Project holds mandatory full-day diversity and inclusion training for our entire staff. This creates a shared language and foundation for our staff and allows us to hold each other accountable as we expand our organization. – Amit Paley, The Trevor Project

4. SEEK OUT CONTRADICTORY DATA AND OPINIONS

I’m a big believer in the power of diversity of all kinds, and I advocate for a diversity of thought in leadership. My No. 1 practice is to ask for solutions, opinions, insights, and data from a diverse group of people and resources: formal team members, formal and informal advisors, and a broader, diverse network. I also intentionally seek contradictory data and opinions, as I think it is incredibly important to understand and embrace other perspectives about a decision or point of view—especially from those bringing a different experience than my own—to effectively check biases and strengthen decision-making. This is why I believe so strongly in diverse leadership teams, boards, founders, and management at all levels, as well as making sure that industry-led conversations, panels, and events are equally diverse. – Jason Dorsey, The Center for Generational Kinetics

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5. QUANTIFY YOUR INCLUSIVITY AND COLLABORATIVE EFFORTS

I think a bottom-up and top-down creativity model is always important. Whenever I am in a one-to-one, a random asynchronous chat, or an all-hands, I practice active listening and encourage equal contribution to agenda planning. We seek to create more high-impact value by consistently quantifying the inclusivity and collaborative nature of our teams. We are also constantly reading, training, and asking questions through accountability check-ins. – Riana Lynn, Journey Foods

6. BUILD A FEEDBACK LOOP INTO YOUR PRODUCTS

I firmly believe that checking your biases and privilege is not a one-off process. I make sure to promote debate amongst my team, encourage dissenting opinions, and acknowledge my own weaknesses, mistakes, and flaws. When it comes to our product, we have a built-in feedback loop to make sure we aren’t just making decisions based on interviews or our intuition but on actual data regarding how people engage with our products. We all know the stories of products not being designed with inclusivity in mind, so at Flare, we intentionally bring a diverse set of voices into the room when designing and testing our products and features. Safety is very much tied to your identity and privilege, so it has been vital for us to make sure that our product works for those who are statistically the most vulnerable. – Quinn Fitzgerald, Flare

7. SEEK THE COMPANIONSHIP OF OTHER LEADERS

Being an entrepreneur is like crossing the Atlantic in a one-person fishing boat. Managing the dynamics of a growing business and keeping a mindset of efficiency everywhere is super difficult. Having a support network is key to not slipping into the dreaded caves of burnout. Seek companionship with heart among other entrepreneurs, and share stories. Learn from one another! – Ziver Birg, Turbulence, Inc.

8. APPROACH LEADERSHIP AS A SERVICE

I remind myself daily that leadership is about service. When you approach leadership as a service, you constantly challenge yourself to give more than you demand. The most effective leaders ask, “How can I support, how can I contribute, and how can I be an asset?” The “how” of leadership is more important than the “who” of leadership. That is why Carter G. Woodson reminded us, “Let who is greatest among you serve.” This quote is about service more than about being “great.” – Kezia Williams, The Black upStart

9. TURN TO YOUR TEAM MEMBERS FOR INSIGHTS

Take the time to regularly reflect, and try to understand where you may have biases and where they’re coming from. To strengthen decision-making, I do regular one-to-ones with all members of my team—from executives to entry-level staff—to ensure everyone feels seen and heard and understands the mission we’re chasing. This feedback is incredibly useful. Often patterns emerge, and they bring my attention to something I wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. I also call on team members who seem quiet in a meeting to ensure they are represented, and I open up a conversation with them on Slack afterward to engage them further. – Brit Morin, Brit + Co

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10. ENSURE YOU HAVE A “CHIEF CONTRARIAN”

I trust my instincts. Instincts are a muscle that gets exercised by making decisions, and awareness and reflection make that muscle stronger. To make good decisions with speed, I surround myself with people who are different from me, and I build trusting relationships so they are willing to speak honestly. I have also cultivated the habit of accepting a “chief contrarian” as part of the team because there is always something to learn from a different opinion. Staying informed along the way also helps when making decisions. – Ximena Hartsock, Phone2Action

11. WORK TO UNDERSTAND WHY YOU THINK AS YOU DO

I set aside thinking and writing time to work through different thought frameworks and points of view. This helps me separate my opinions and the facts to see the options in front of me more clearly. I also challenge myself constantly on why I think something is or isn’t possible. Is it because a person, the market, or some other entity is telling me that, or is it coming from my gut or other data I have collected? Understanding how my own mind thinks about possibilities is powerful. – Greta McAnany, Blue Fever

12. REMEMBER YOU STILL NEED TO LEARN

As a leader, I am always asking for feedback, guidance, and criticism. It is important for me to understand that I am learning and growing—just like everyone else. I do not always have the right answers. So I look to seek wisdom from the people around me and from the peers whom I respect. – Richard Makerson, BlueFletch


Fast Company Executive Board is an invitation-only professional organization of company founders, executives, and leaders who are defining the future of business through design, innovation, creativity, and impact.