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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 (and reasons) wise leaders learn to conquer their biases

Looking for ways to tap into different perspectives and experiences leads to both business and personal growth.

12 ways (and reasons) wise leaders learn to conquer their biases
Members of Fast Company Executive Board share their expert insights. [Image: Courtesy of the individual members.]
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Achieving growth for a business or organization depends on expanding your audience or customer base—that’s a given. To do that, your product or service must serve a broad range of people. But no leader can make this happen by making decisions without the perspectives, experiences and feedback of others.

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Below, 12 members of Fast Company Executive Board share why they find it so important to tap into the knowledge and opinions of others to avoid making biased decisions, and how any leader can open up and broaden their personal and professional horizons.

1. STEP OUTSIDE YOUR ECHO CHAMBER

To check my bias, I make a point of reading and viewing sources that are far outside of my echo chamber. Additionally, one of the best and simplest ways to check for bias is to ask for feedback about a specific perspective or issue, and then just listen actively. To strengthen my decision-making, I ask three filter questions. First, what is the problem to be solved or the “job to be done”? Second, is this adding value to those I am serving? Finally, does this bring me joy? – Simone Ahuja, Blood Orange

2. UNDERSTAND LEADERSHIP IS ABOUT MORE THAN ONE PERSON’S IDEAS

Surround yourself with people who have different views and strengths, and then be open to their feedback. Biases are natural, and the best leaders are aware they happen and put processes in place to keep them in check. We are past the days where leaders should be able to do whatever they want. Leadership is more about what’s best for the company—not one person’s thoughts. – John Hall, Calendar

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3. TREAT FEEDBACK AS A LEARNING EXPERIENCE

I think it’s extremely important to encourage and welcome transparent feedback. This is especially true where examining and confronting biases is concerned. Equally important is to treat feedback as a teaching and learning moment rather than criticism. Acknowledging that we are all constant works-in-progress is key to growth. – Misty Larkins, Relevance

4. EXAMINE THE SOURCE OF YOUR DATA

Human decisions are always based on data. Some data comes in the form of statistics and probabilities that are shareable and repeatable, and some comes through our human interactions and the data we share with each other through our behaviors—maybe it’s an approving head nod, furrowed brow, or confident tone of voice. Our brain is constantly integrating human data to make probabilistic inferences that shape our beliefs and interactions. It can be powerful when it helps us anticipate a new direction or gain novel insight, but it’s also the source of bias and false security. I work hard to consider the origins of the data that’s driving my beliefs—is there specific human or experiential data that is heavily weighted in a perspective driving a decision? If so, understanding and questioning the “why” undoubtedly either helps remove bias or leads to actionable insight. – Poppy Crum, Dolby Laboratories/Stanford University

5. ACCESS MULTIPLE SOURCES OF DATA

I practice blending the internal and external data available to me and use it as a strategy for decision-making. By internal data, I mean the GPS we all have inside of us, which is constantly providing data points and body intelligence. That’s science. Being hyper-aware of your emotional, physical, and mental “data” is powerful. By external data, I’m referring to the current and historical data at my fingertips as well as surrounding myself with people whose zone of genius is different than my own. This allows for access to data and insight beyond what I might have on my own. I’ve found that when I blend these types of data, my best and least-biased decisions are made. – Amy Jo Martin, Amy Jo Martin LLC, dba Why Not Now? Media

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6. INTRODUCE CHALLENGERS INTO DECISION-MAKING PROCESSES

I consistently ask two questions: The first is, “Is it true?” and the second is, “Where’s the evidence?” I’m also a fan of Adam Grant’s approach of integrating challengers into any critical decision-making process. It’s not simply to cause friction. Rather, it’s in the service of testing, refining, and optimizing while bringing blind spots and biases center-stage so they can be addressed early enough in the process to make a meaningful difference in the outcome. – Jonathan Fields, Spark Endeavors Inc. | Good Life Project®

7. ACTIVELY PURSUE FRESH PERSPECTIVES

Operating in a niche industry, I have found consistent value in stepping outside traditional channels for feedback. In a relatively small world like private aviation, the generally accepted norm can breathe a bit like recycled air. When onboarding a new hire, I step in for at least one day of training and press them for feedback on what they are learning. I routinely approach friends and family for reactions to new business ideas and look for parallel stories in similar industries as possible roadmaps. Any opportunity to access a fresh perspective is valuable. – Rich Palese, evoJets

8. FOCUS ON WHAT WILL TRULY SERVE YOUR CUSTOMERS

When it comes to designing and building product experiences for your customers, decision-making is critical. At Flare, I looked at different risks we would face in making sure the hardware, software, and user experience worked and graded each risk by the level of effort it would take to solve and the level of risk each posed to our customers’ having a great product experience. This risk framework allowed me to limit the influence my bias had on design decisions and instead focus squarely on the user and what would be most important to her experience with the product. Of course, from there, it’s a constant evolution of improving and growing the product, but this approach has allowed us to have a strong initial foundation. – Sara de Zarraga, Flare

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9. OPEN UP TO HEARING FROM STAFF AT EVERY LEVEL

Great ideas, opinions, and creative solutions can emanate from staff at every level, so don’t fall into the trap of just listening to and interacting with senior executives and board members. Include a broad range of positions in all your brainstorming and decision-making activities. Work hard—through self-reflection and coaching, if necessary—to fight your gut reaction to become defensive when you feel attacked by those who disagree with you. It’s only human to get defensive, but don’t let your emotions get the best of you; instead, consciously prepare yourself before meetings to respond with openness and empathy. Finally, strive to be a perpetual learner. Stay curious and educate yourself on industry developments, social trends, and expert opinions, and work hard to stay approachable and humble. – Brenda Weitzberg, Aspiritech, NFP

10. BE AWARE OF THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INTENT AND IMPACT

I am constantly evaluating and re-evaluating my awareness of the critical difference between my intent versus my impact in meetings, conversations, and so on. We are a firm that teaches this concept and facilitates discussions about it with our clients, but we must tackle it in ourselves and amongst the team just as vigilantly and thoughtfully. Additionally, we have a practice of sharing our “a-ha moments” with each other. We learn in community with clients and partners, practice “imperfect allyship,” and get comfortable being uncomfortable. We are transparent about our learning, mistakes, and adjustments, and we are always seeking feedback on our processes from team members and candidates to ensure we are rooting out bias wherever we can. – Jennifer Brown, Jennifer Brown Consulting

11. LOOK BACK AT YOUR BIGGEST DECISIONS

One of the most powerful practices I have integrated is doing a retrospective. It’s helpful to do this with teams on a quarterly basis. I also use it to look back at the big decisions I and the company have made to determine how we did, what we learned, and if there was anything else we could have known or done to make a better decision at the time. – Alexandra Cavoulacos, The Muse

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12. ASK FOR MORE INFORMATION

Ask open-ended questions that encourage sharing. Don’t be the person at the (now virtual) table giving the answer—instead, be the person who asks the next question to draw others into the dialog and make sure they are heard. Whenever I am inclined to think I understand what someone else is saying, I validate by asking, “Tell me more about that.” It is incredibly valuable, and I learn surprising things and challenge my assumptions. – Amy Radin, Daily Innovator LLC