We all have tendencies, inclinations toward particular behaviors.
Things we normally do, often without thinking.
But they are not always right.
When it comes to leadership or decision-making, it’s important to stop and recognize them. Here are five tendencies I have that I must constantly call into question.
#1 – NEW over OLD.
We tend to give a greater weight to something that’s new versus something that’s old.
- The newer model must be better than the older model.
- Let’s try the new restaurant because I’m tired of the old standby.
- This new social media app will be the Facebook killer.
Just because something is new, we tend to think it’s better.
Of course, this isn’t always the case.
In The Glass Cage, Nicholas Carr writes, “What makes one tool superior to another has nothing to do with now new it is. What matters is how it enlarges us or diminishes us, how it shapes our experience of nature and culture and one another.”
It’s not about how new something is; it’s about how useful it is and how much value it truly adds. The new way may be newer, but it’s not necessarily better.
I have a friend who loves productivity apps. He’s got the latest and greatest and tells me about their features and integrations.
He’s also one of the more disorganized people in my life.
That’s because no new app truly adds value…it’s how you use it.
Or IF you use it.
#2 – DIGITAL over ANALOG.
Many people think digital is better. After all, digital devices frequently put their analog counterparts out of business.
When the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil came out, there was something in me that felt like I should try it. So I shelled out the money.
I use the iPad to watch Netflix, and the Pencil sits on my desk, usually uncharged. Despite being far more advanced, my boring Moleskin and whatever pen is handy is moe useful to me.
In The Revenge of Analog, David Sax writes, “There’s a presumption that technology will always improve one’s life, in whatever it is. We have a false belief that technology equals progress.”
He writes about how school officials and politicians are fascinated with bringing technology to schools. But points out that the largest requests teachers make on the site Donors Choose is for supplies like books and dry erase markers.
Two of my three kids have school-issued Surface Pros, yet when we log on to the school portal to assess grades, it’s often out of date. Each Friday, I get updates in the form of Word newsletters, links to Weebly websites and emails. Communication is confusing, but my kids have surface pros.
More technology doesn’t automatically improve anything.
#3 – MY contribution over OTHERS.
It’s really easy for me to think my ideas, skills, talents and contributions are indispensable to the cause and that other people’s ideas are just good enough. That’s pride.
If you’re a visionary leader, you tend to think that vision is the most factor in getting a project off the ground. You’re the linchpin to the operation.
But if you’re an operational leader, you might think the ability to get stuff done is more important than rah-rah speeches. You’re the one that makes it happen.
We overvalue our own contributions and tend to think the contributions of others would have happened anyway.
The same goes for ideas.
I tend to think my ideas are more revolutionary and game-changing than they really are. I tend to think my decisions are more important than others. I get attached to them, not because they are great, but because they are mine.
Perhaps that’s why Adam Grant says great leaders need the ability to let go of their own ideas. See the excellent book Originals.
When I look back on my time at The Rocket Company, it’s easy for me to romanticize our growth curve. During my tenure, we made the INC 5000 list and the company was eventually sold for a lot of money. I look back and remember my ideas, my contributions, and my decisions.
In truth, successes didn’t come from my contributions and couldn’t solely be traced back to my ideas or vision. I was just a small part.
Failure is often due to a single person’s decisions, but success is usually always a team effort.
#4 – PAST SUCCESS over CURRENT REALITY.
It’s so easy for me to hold on to something that used to work and let that drive my decision making.
And while past performance and track record are important to consider, what used to work in the past may no longer work now. The best practice from five years ago may not add any value today.
I can take you to a lot of churches, non-profits and ministries that are expending considerable resources on programs that used to work but ha e long since lost effectiveness. I can show you organizations relying on outdated fundraising strategies based on a good old days mentality.
Nostalgia for past success is one of the biggest hindrances to current effectiveness.
In fact, past success might just be the very thing keeping you from current victory.
Sam Chand writes, “When Leaders rest on their past successes, they become organizationally flabby – soft and passive. In fact, the more successful an organization has been in the past, the more likely it is to fail in the future.”
Organizationally flabby…that’s a powerful metaphor.
#5 – WHAT WE KNOW over what we NEED TO KNOW.
The final tendency I have is to rely on my current knowledge set rather than seeking out new data or perspectives.
You don’t have to be a know it all to let knowing enough keep you from growing.
Nobody likes a “know-it-all.”
But the “know-enoughs” are also dangerous.
These are people whose limited (and rarely challenged) worldview color every decision. They ignore what they don’t understand.
I do it all the time.
Psychologists call this phenomenon confirmation bias, and it’s one of the most important principles any decision maker can learn.
Confirmation bias is when you search out information to justify what you already know or believe.
It’s why you agree with everything you hear on Fox News or CNN and why everyone on the other channel is an idiot. You’re not actually hearing the reporting, you’re agreeing with the bias in the reporting.
Take any issue or position and you’ll find stories, facts, and people to validate that angle. The data will skew toward the position you hold, and you’ll ignore what you don’t understand or believe.
I tend to agree with what I already agree with.
That’s confirmation bias in action.
Whether I’m leading a team meeting or a company project, I can’t let what I already know (or think I know) keep me from pursuing the new knowledge that will ultimately lead to success.
I need different voices. I need fresh perspective. I need coaches and mentors who don’t see things the same way.
The breakthrough often lies in breaking these tendencies.