Leadership and learning are closely intertwined: an important part of leading any team or organisation is guiding it towards better performance, which
is often driven by learning and applying new strategies, systems and technologies. However, even if you actively pursue learning opportunities, there
are obstacles that can impede your ability to absorb new ideas.
In this article, we highlight cognitive biases that can stand in the way of your efforts to learn and what you can do to avoid them as you strive to become
a better leader.
How biases hinder learning
Cognitive bias is the tendency to reach an irrational conclusion as a result of filtering external input through your existing views, preferences and experience.
In other words, your mind is putting its own spin on the information it receives.
This kind of bias can pose a problem when you are learning. Effective learning requires you to open your mind and take in new ideas, but cognitive biases
can skew this process.
For example, if you are learning a new technique for carrying out a work task in a more efficient way, a cognitive bias may convince you that the old way
is better and thus put up mental barriers to learning before you even give this new method a fair chance.
Pitfalls to avoid
Cognitive biases come in different shapes and forms, yet many of them have the potential to hamper learning. Here are a few examples of biases to be on
alert for when you are trying to learn:
- Status quo bias – a preference to stick to the existing way of doing things.
- Functional fixedness – an inability to imagine objects or ideas functioning in a way other than how you have traditionally used them.
- Confirmation bias – a tendency to accept information that aligns with your existing point of view and reject information that counters
- Not-invented-here bias – a tendency to reject ideas or ways of doing things that you perceive to come from elsewhere (e.g. a different
industry or culture).
- Bandwagon effect – a tendency to align your behaviour with how others around you are thinking or behaving.
- Recency bias – a tendency to place more value on more recent ideas and less value on older ideas.
These biases are pervasive and unconscious, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be overcome. The best way to prevent them from hindering your learning is
to be aware of them and to watch for red flags.
For example, be on guard for thoughts like “But that’s not the way we do it here” and “Why should I listen to this teacher? They don’t have my industry
knowledge and experience.” These are warning signs that you’re being swayed by functional fixedness and the not-invented-here bias.
The best leaders are learners
Your industry and the wider business environment are not static, and your leadership shouldn’t be either. The best leaders are those who watch the horizon
for what’s next and learn the skills and strategies needed to seize the opportunities of tomorrow.
By being aware of and avoiding cognitive biases, you can maximise the impact of your learning and strengthen your leadership abilities.