Few things can derail a leader’s decision-making ability like their own biases, especially when they are true blind spots. We see it in how a leader makes decisions related to people, customer, partners, operations and strategy. Our biases are rooted in how we were raised, our environment, our friends and what we were taught. As adults, our biases are reinforced through our peers, experiences and the media. This combination of inputs makes it brutally hard to tamp them down so they don’t impair how we make decisions. Unfortunately, there is no cognitive reset button in our brains to override our thinking. We’ll cover what we can do to battle the biases in a moment, but first let’s look at four of the most common that leader’s wrestle with.


This is a type of cognitive bias where we favor information that confirms our previously existing beliefs or biases. For example, you may believe that someone without a college degree doesn’t have as much potential as someone who does and you seek out examples that support that view. Or, that someone over 60 doesn’t have the energy and drive for a difficult and extended project compared to someone who is younger. Then, the oldest person on a project team must take some time off because they are sick. Your bias is confirmed.  Confirmation bias is especially challenging because its where we form and re-confirm stereotypes and can lead to faulty or poor choices.


This bias occurs when employees physically near their leaders are seen as better workers compared to remote employees. Because of this, these employees may be much more likely to receive promotions, raises and recognition. It’s become an increasing concern for employees in a hybrid work model, especially for certain segments of the workforce. According to a study by FlexJobs, women are more likely to prefer a remote or hybrid work model. As we saw during the height of the pandemic, women are far more likely to shoulder housework and childcare duties, which drives the desire for a more flexible schedule. Others that might suffer from proximity bias could be low-income workers wanting to lower commuting costs, which given current fuel prices becomes a very real and serious consideration. Proximity bias can create deep fractures within your teams.


When we use an initial piece of information to make our decisions, and evaluate any other inputs against that first data, we are anchoring ourselves to it. Once the anchor is set, we are biased toward it, and it becomes difficult to adjust away from it. Let’s assume your vice president of product wants to hire a product manager. Based on something you see on LinkedIn or what you hear from a colleague at another company, you’re expecting your VP to say that the position will cost $80k. When she tells you it will be $100k, your anchoring says “that’s way too much. We might be able to do $85k.” Your assessment is based on that initial data point, and you aren’t considering additional information that would be better information the decisions.


When we put more significance or weight on recent events versus things that occurred further in the past, we display recency bias. Because the information comes to us more easily, it colors our judgement and decisions. It can manifest itself for leaders when conducting performance reviews. We reflect on the person’s most recent performance (good or bad) and that drives our assessment. On a larger scale, recency bias could impact our decision around how we align the organization, where we make internal investments and our evaluation of potential acquisitions.

How to Manage your Biases

Because our biases are engrained, it takes significant effort to push them down in our thought processes. Complicating this could be the Dunning-Kruger Effect, which is a cognitive bias in which people mistakenly assess their intellectual ability as greater than it is. According to David Dunning, “Our ignorance is invisible to us. Now knowing the scope of your own ignorance is part of the human condition, but the problem with it is we see it in other people, and we don’t see it in ourselves.” Here are steps you can take to be much more self-aware.

Seek out objective facts. Everyone is entitled to their opinions, but not their own facts. If you ignore information that challenges what you think, you will never break free from biases. So, be curious about views that are different than yours. Take the time to see things from their perspective. You may not agree it with, but your thinking will be better for it.

       “It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.”


Educate yourself. Paying attention to your thoughts and examining your beliefs can help you identify your current assumptions. Do you think people who work from home are less productive? Do you see someone who is quiet in a meeting as not adding value? Are the best “go getters” people who are first to speak? If you are geared for “Fire, Fire, Fire” vs. “Ready. Aim. Fire,” take the time to pause and check your assumptions and beliefs.

Let others challenge your assumptions. Our biases our rooted in just about everything that made us … us. When someone says or does something that challenges these, we likely get defensive. The most difficult part of managing that is the defensive reflex may not even be understood. The more unconscious and deeper the bias, the more likely our negative reaction. Our view of ourselves is made up of our life experiences and the lessons we learn along the way. So, before you snap back or withdraw, assume positive intent and be curious.

Be open to feedback. Feedback is a gift, especially when it’s something that is hard to hear. You can create a culture where feedback is welcomed and expected, whether it’s about bias or just a perspective on a project. If someone gives you feedback, try a question like this – “Thanks for that feedback. I always want to grow as a leader. Would you be willing to have a conversation with me about this?” If you’re not sure where to start, a 360-feedback assessment provides insight on observed behavior that gives you a baseline to work from. Remember that every situation that feels uncomfortable is a leadership learning moment.

Build a diverse team. It’s encouraging to see more and more companies and leaders actively and sincerely seek increasing diversity in their ranks. When you surround yourself with others who do not think like you, you are building a system that will help you, and them, avoid falling into a bias trap. To do this requires a level of self-awareness and confidence to intentionally surround yourself with talent and diverse thinkers.  This extends beyond those you lead. Look at your professional network. How similar are you and your connections?

Questions to ask yourself

  1. What core beliefs do I hold? How might these beliefs limit or enable me and my colleagues?
  2. What stereotypes do I have about race, gender or sexual orientation?
  3. Do I acknowledge and leverage differences on my team? If no, why? If yes, how?
  4. Do my words and actions truly reflect my intentions? How do I know?