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The Issue: Triage - How to Decide Which Biases to Treat First
by Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D.

When my daughter was a teenager, I learned one important lesson: Donít sweat the small stuff. So her room was a mess and her hair was green, she was a good kid and thatís what mattered. The same principle applies to healing your biases. Some matter, some (almost) donít.

Letís face it, we all have biases "big ones, small ones, destructive ones, (again, almost) harmless ones. We need to aim our guns at the biases that do the most damage. In short: Pick your fights. I would, for example, lighten up about the fact that you tend to think "All professors are absentminded" or "All French people are good cooks." Itís not that these generalities are entirely harmless (nor was my daughterís green hair) but, just as injured soldiers on the battlefield are put through a triage process to discover who requires treatment first, your biases need to be triaged in order to identify which ones most urgently demand your attention. For our purposes here, that will be those that either cause pain, interfere with productivity, or compromise your ability to lead effectively.

There are, of course, dozens of areas in which biases can compromise leadership abilities. This list is just a starting point. As you look through it, answer each question honestly. This process may be more than a little painful, but it would hurt a lot more to discover later that biases have damaged your leadership abilities and, therefore, your career.
  • Do I have a bias that might keep me from hiring the best people? Have I ever failed to identify a prime candidate because a bias blocked my view of what an individual had to offer? On the other hand, have I ever allowed a Guerilla Bias - to seduce me into giving preference to someone just because of the group to which they belonged?
  • Do I have a bias that might keep me from giving employees opportunities that are necessary for them to succeed? Have I ever assumed an individual to be incapable so failed to give them challenging assignments from which they might learn or that would have provided them valuable exposure within the organization?
  • Do I have a bias that might cause employees to leave the organization prematurely? Have I ever, for example, failed to coach members of emerging group (formerly called "minorities") out of "kindness" only to have them leave for an organization that would hold them to a more respectful high standard of performance.
  • Do I have a bias that might result in poor performance for diverse members of my team? Have I, for example, as in Question 3, ever failed to coach someone and, thereby, provide them with the information necessary to succeed? Studies have shown that, without feedback and carefully delineated goals, productivity suffers, and un-coached employees begin to "measure down" to managementís expectations.
  • Do I have a bias that might result in litigation against myself or my company? Litigation is the worst nightmare of every organization, every manager, and every CEO. Sometimes the waking dream is filled with smarmy characters who tell racist jokes, denigrate gay people, or make sleazy comments to female subordinates. Other times, and this is the real worry, the act that results in litigation is of the Guerilla Bias variety no sleazy and easily identifiable characters in sight but just as much damage being done.
Whether it be litigation or any other disruption in the workplace, the potential price of bias is too great to ignore. If you feel that you have biases that have the kinds of consequences listed here, those are the ones to go after first. Yes, Iíll admit I have a bias for dog lovers over cat lovers " something to do with trainability no doubt " but it is held so playfully that it certainly doesnít compromise my work performance and only in jest is directed at anyone else. I am more concerned about the kinds of pre-judgments that have the potential of interfering with my ability to lead others effectively and to form solid and productive relationships.

Copyright Sondra Thiederman, Ph.D. All rights reserved.

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