What's My Leadership Bias?

What's My Leadership Bias?

Terms that define the word bias include prejudice, partiality, favoritism, one-sidedness, leaning and tendency.

We all have biases. They are major factors in our decision-making. Like an invisible force operating under the radar, our biases stealthily move to shape the way we influence and lead others, yet we don’t like to admit they even exist. Unfortunately, wherever bias rules unchecked, there is chaos, dissention, hurt and distrust. When bias is recognized and consciously set aside, however, unity, trust, forgiveness and commitment will flourish.

In this blog we’ll look at common leadership biases and ways to minimize their effects in our decision-making.

Scripture on Partiality and Bias

Leading like Jesus means embracing Jesus and His leadership model. So, it would only be right to first understand what God’s Word says on the topic of bias and partiality.

“For God shows no partiality.” Romans 2:11

“To show partiality is not good, but for a piece of bread a man will do wrong.” Proverbs 28:21

“But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors.” James 2:9

“The Lord detests dishonest scales, but accurate weights find favor with him.” Proverbs 11:1

“If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked.” Proverbs 29:12

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.” 1 Timothy 5:21

God’s Word clearly established partiality and bias as unacceptable. If a leader allows himself or herself to be swayed by lies and bias, Proverbs 29:12 tells us that wickedness will reign.

Partiality and bias are insidious, and those of us who desire to lead like Jesus must flee from them, refuse to listen to them, and examine ourselves on a regular basis to make sure that they and their various forms are not taking root in us.

God’s Word clearly established partiality and bias as unacceptable.

3 Dangerous Biases

In her article titled 6 dangerous biases of bosses, Jill Geisler outlines the most common biases that are plaguing leaders today. Let’s look at three of them and observe how they impact the workplace:

1. I like you. You remind me of myself.

According to social scientists, this specific bias “leads us to be more approving, more empathetic—and more likely to hire and promote people like us. It leads us to measure the behavior of others by the yardstick of what we ourselves would do.”

Because we are naturally drawn to people most like us, there is a level of natural discomfort toward those who are not like us; hence we’ll be more lenient and accepting of some and more sensitive and prejudiced against others. 

James 2:1-26 condemns using physical appearance and economic status to prefer one person over another. As we lead and influence others, we should be very aware of passing judgment and treating those around us differently because of their wealth (or lack thereof) or physical appearance. 

2. I hired you.

Geisler says, “When we bring a person onto our team, we're telling the world, ‘I believe in this person.’  Since our credibility is on the line in a hire, we root for the best outcome and may be more inclined to give second chances.”

According to a CareerBuilder survey, 75 percent of employers said they have hired the wrong person for a position and in 49 percent of cases the skills and expertise were simply no match for what the position required. Even more revealing, a study conducted by Glassdoor shows that 95% of companies admit to recruiting the wrong people each year! Yet, despite these staggering statistics, many leaders stick to the “I hired you” bias because they are either too prideful to admit they made a mistake, or they are too fearful of being exposed.  

When Moses’ father-in-law Jethro saw that Moses could not physically handle judging all the cases that the Israelites brought before him, he offered Moses a suggestion: appoint helpers to oversee and judge certain cases to give some relief.

“Choose some capable men and appoint them as leaders of the people: leaders of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens. They must be God-fearing men who can be trusted and who cannot be bribed.” Exodus 18:21

Jethro’s council was very specific and placed certain “job description” requirements on those who would help Moses carry the load. Jethro’s requirements focused on two areas: (a) skill and expertise and (b) character.

  1. Capable means competent. Skill, experience and expertise to perform a specific role with excellence are necessary. When we ignore the competence of the people we hire, we are setting up ourselves and our organizations for failure. Some roles will require much more expertise and experience than others. Overseeing finances of an organization will rank higher than filing and managing data, hence hiring an unskilled or inexperienced individual to oversee finances will have worse consequences for us than hiring an unskilled document filer.
  2. God-fearing, trusted, cannot be bribed. Jethro was serious about the character of men that Moses would put in place to judge and oversee others. As leaders we must be careful to surround ourselves with truth tellers, people of integrity who will not use office politics to gain favor with the leadership to usurp certain roles or positions. Integrity of work, honesty and owning mistakes are just a few character traits we should pay close attention to as we bring people on board.

“Choose some capable men and appoint them as leaders..." Ex. 18:21

3. I’m under pressure

The third and final bias we’ll look at today is pressure bias. It seems like there is never enough time to do everything we want to accomplish. There are never enough people to do all the tasks. And there seems to never be enough money in the budget to accomplish all the goals.

To yield to the pressure bias is especially harmful, because under pressure we will almost always make a bad decision. In 1 Samuel 15, King Saul is a classic example of a leader who gave in to pressure to please his people, and his bias to fulfill their desires (and his own) overshadowed what should have been Saul’s bias toward obedience to God’s specific command.

Because Saul listened to some of the self-centered and ego-driven men close to him and did not destroy everything that belonged to the Amalekites but allowed them to keep the best, the Lord removed His favor from Saul and ultimately took away his position of leadership and influence.

When we are under pressure to deliver, to meet deadlines, to grow revenue, we are in danger of making decisions out of a pressure bias.

How can we guard against bias?

At Lead Like Jesus we talk a lot about leadership habits we must cultivate to lead out of our love and obedience to the Father rather than out of our biases.

When our hearts and minds are aligned with God’s voice, when we take time to pause, listen, seek wise council and look honestly at ourselves, we will be in a much better place to avoid biased decision-making.

Habits like:

  • Solitude: where we spend regular, extended time alone with the Lord
  • Prayer: where we seek two-way communication with the Father and where we listen to His voice
  • Study of God’s Word: where we can draw wisdom and counsel and can learn from the mistakes of others who’ve gone before us

Making these habits an integral part of our lives will help us recognize our leadership biases and guard against them. 

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Megan Pacheco

Megan Pacheco

Megan Pacheco is the Chief Learning Officer at Lead Like Jesus. Born and raised in Poland, Megan moved to the U.S. at 17 and after finishing her studies, she started work in the faith-based sector, where she has served for over 13 years. She comes with years of experience in product development, marketing and alliances and is passionate about using her God-given talents to advance the cause of Christ. Megan is a writer, and her content on issues like personal finances, money and marriage and  raisingchildren have been published by More Living, Yahoo Finance, AllParenting, FoxBusiness, DailyFinance, and Crosswalk. Megan is married to David and they have two sons, Joshua and Daniel.