The Three C’s of Leadership Success to Overcome Confirmation Bias

April 26, 2017

Stellar leaders easily compel team members to their way of thinking; align them towards organizational goals and inspire them to develop talents that they often never realize they have.  They are keen decision makers who trust their gut.  Sometimes, the same skills and intuition that led them to their leadership position can backfire on them.colaboration

Steve Jobs hired Harvard Law School graduate, Lawrence Levy, as CFO and member of the Office of the President of Pixar Animation Studios.  During his tenure, Levy saw firsthand how great leaders must find a healthy balance between confidence and collaboration in order to succeed.  In a recent Harvard Business Review article, Levy wrote that extraordinary leaders, “believe they know best about how their ideas should be realized and won’t let up until their high standards are met.”  Levy contends that leaders need more than sheer confidence and raw vision to lead their organizations toward success.

Here are the three C’s on which leaders should focus to ensure they maintain objectivity during their decision-making and therefore take action that is ultimately best for the organization.

  1. Collaboration- Leaders trust and value their team’s opinions because these employees are on the front-lines, serving internal and external clients on a daily basis. Organizational behavior research, however, has shown that the more powerful a person feels, the less likely they are to seek out and heed advice from people who disagree with them.  This is in effect, a dichotomy, because while subordinates’ knowledge is essential to the leader’s ability to make the best decision, feelings of powerfulness can usurp leaders’ ability to incorporate dissention and hence make the right decision.


Leaders would therefore benefit from applying Dale Carnegie’s 30th Human Relations principle, ‘Make the other person happy about doing the thing you suggest,’ by encouraging everyone to share their input even if they disagree with the leader—and then actually take it into account during the decision-making process.

  1. Constructive criticism- While it feels comfortable for leaders to collaborate with like-minded people, it’s important to engage those with different roles, backgrounds and experiences. It’s been said that, “The best way for your team to support you is to disagree with you.”  Having a diverse group of advisors and taking their constructive criticism into account is the application of Dale Carnegie’s 15th principle, ‘Let the other person do a great deal of the talking.’
  2. Confirmation bias- Sometimes leaders involuntarily exercise a confirmation bias which is the tendency to search for, interpret, favor, and recall information in a way that confirms one’s preexisting beliefs or hypotheses.1    This is why it’s critical for leaders to practice open-mindedness and humility when seeking expert advice.  In the same article, Levy explains how Steve Jobs, “had a very small circle of hand-picked advisors and put aside his stubborn intensity to pay attention to their advice.”  Jobs, who was known for his extreme pursuit of personal visions, understood the value putting his preconceived notions aside to hear what others had to say.
Image: Pixabay


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