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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 essential habits to help leaders take bias out of their decisions

Leaders better serve their teams and their customers when they look for ways to check their own bias.

12 essential habits to help leaders take bias out of their decisions
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]
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As human beings, our personal experiences, backgrounds and upbringings influence the way we see the world. Everyone has these biases, and they’re not always negative—but for business leaders, it’s important to develop self-awareness about their perspectives and how they may impact important business decisions.

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Here, 12 members of Fast Company Executive Board share the strategies they’ve developed to minimize their personal biases in business decisions and arrive at the best outcome for all stakeholders.

1. ASK FOR OTHER OPINIONS BEFORE OFFERING YOURS

Build a great advisory board, both within and outside your company. Your outside advisors could be industry experts, investors, and/or customers. Your internal advisors are your team and employees. Constantly ask for their feedback—not only during one-to-ones but also as part of larger team meetings. Practice asking for others’ opinions before providing yours—a practice that can be hard for management. – Anju Mathew, LynkCare, Inc., dba OncoLens

2. TAKE A PAUSE FROM THE SITUATION

I try to stay mindful. So much of how we show up in our professional and personal lives is a function of our brains being on autopilot. I’m a much better decision-maker when I’m able to pause, consider the set of options in front of me, and cross-check them with my personal biases to ensure I’m not defaulting to pre-set programming. Often, just letting a situation “breathe” and coming back to it in a day or so can make all the difference in the world. It’s invaluable for getting perspective. – Kelly Burton, Black Innovation Alliance

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3. SEEK INPUT OUTSIDE YOUR CULTURAL DEFAULTS

It is important to acknowledge both that bias exists and the strong pull it has on us. Unlearning bias, whether conscious or unconscious, starts with curiosity, humility, and openness. The most impactful habit I have incorporated is to pause and seek input outside of my cultural defaults. I have also learned to sit with uncomfortable things and resist the temptation to problem-solve too quickly. Being an antiracist organization requires a sustained effort from leaders and everyone in our company. – Kerri Hoffman, PRX

4. REMEMBER HAVING BIAS IS PART OF BEING HUMAN

During a particular client meeting, we realized at the same time that bias shows up when we least expect it. Sometimes bias shows up in conversations over coffee, during a meeting with colleagues, or by simply watching the news. Here’s the thing to get: Because we are human, bias will always be part of who we are. For me, it is about understanding why it showed up in the first place, learning from it, and giving myself the patience to work through the complexity of the issue. It’s only through these experiences I can become a better leader and human. – Leslie Wingo, Sanders\Wingo

5. REACH OUT TO YOUR AUDIENCE

As a leader, I strengthen my decision-making with facts. I often have strong instincts regarding my product’s direction, but building a product without sufficient data is a costly mistake. One of my favorite tools for confirming important decisions is to ask our users. If I’m contemplating building a beta product feature or entering a new market, I often leverage Instagram stories to poll our users. We have a highly engaged Instagram following, and our community can quickly validate—or veto—a critical decision. – Nathalie Walton, Expectful

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6. PROTECT YOUR BLINDSIDE

Biases are adaptive mechanisms; some serve us while others don’t. One of my greatest assets when it comes to protecting my blindside is the diverse and trusted tribe that surrounds me. They inspire me and expose me to new ways of thinking and solutions. It’s incredibly important for me to self-assess the unconscious drivers that influence my judgment, authentically listen to other perspectives (especially those different from my own), and hold space to challenge my assumptions. The best way I strengthen my decision-making is to stay curious, open, and scientific throughout the process. – Melissa Barash, Left Tackle Capital

7. KEEP ASKING “WHY?”

Even if you think you know the answer, get comfortable asking “Why?” multiple times. This is a useful practice for two reasons. First, the organization can’t achieve anything you don’t understand. Second, it helps to create good habits when it comes to establishing clear goals and objectives for your team. – Jeremy Johnson, Andela

8. ENGAGE IN A DETAILED SELF-CHECK

Here’s a quick internal check I do to make sure I’m not operating out of an instinctual and often biased place but am instead thoughtfully making decisions that support the fundamentals that are important to me. First, notice your comfort zone, which is often driven by familiarity and can encourage us to make decisions that reinforce consensus bias. Lean in and listen when different opinions and experiences surround you. Next, ask yourself if you can identify good reasons for your decisions, because being very sure of yourself without clearly articulated reasons is a big flag that you’re operating from instinct. Finally, seek an opposition check—is anyone providing the other side, and if you’re not able to, is there someone else who can? – Monica Landers, StoryFit

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9. INVEST IN YOUR WELL-BEING

Leaders need to have individual well-being goals to foster mental clarity and focus. Nobody conquers the world on four hours of sleep, and the worst decisions are made on a diet of coffee and whatever is left on your kid’s lunch plate. Impulse is the enemy. The more we remove base-level stress and anxiety from our lives, the better we function. It’s time to invest in our personal well-being to elevate the professional execution of our duties and responsibilities as leaders. – Laurie Ruettimann, LFR Inc.

10. RUN YOUR IDEAS PAST YOUR SOUNDING BOARD

As a solo practice, I think writing sharpens the mind, and journaling helps to achieve clear thinking. But nothing beats a strong network. Once you’ve brought clarity to your own thinking, you need a sounding board, whether it be a board of advisors, a hand-selected group of your peers, or both. Investing in a supportive community is invaluable in exposing blind spots and keeping your bias in check. – Jayson Gaignard, MMT Community

11. CULTIVATE OPEN, RESPECTFUL COMMUNICATION

I’m always listening deeply to my team. I believe in cultivating open, fearless, respectful communication so people feel empowered to raise challenges we can then solve together. I also meditate three times a day, including virtual reality meditation. It gives me more patience, detachment, ethics, and clarity, which is always essential when making difficult decisions that impact others. – Cheryl Contee, The Impact Seat

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12. FREQUENTLY CONSULT YOUR STAKEHOLDERS

First, I permit myself to rest in order to facilitate sound decision-making. If I’m sleep-deprived, my leadership can fracture. Additionally, frequent consultation with my stakeholders is key. If I’m going to check my bias, my stakeholder community must be intersectional and diverse. – Amanda Munday, The Workaround