What is the biggest LEADERSHIP challenge great leaders face head on?

Getting past thinking “I AM RIGHT!”

When we guess something, we generally believe we are right, or at least, almost right. The more familiar the content set or scenario is, the stronger this feeling becomes. This assumption is not rational; however, we can quickly generate a logical argument to support our hypotheses and position our guess as correct. 

A simple experiment highlights this challenge. Use the Lost at Sea scenario.

Get your leadership team to form a circle, give each person a note pad and pen. Give them these simple instructions: 

  1. Without speaking to anyone, or asking any questions, listen to the scenario and decide on your plan of action.
  2. Without any discussion, rank the items from most important to least important. 

Allow six minutes.

These first two steps are all it takes to build barrier number one; “I think my answers are right or almost right.” This psychological pneumonia studied and explained skillfully by Daniel Kahneman, in his work, he highlights the struggle we all have separating intuition from logic.

Barrier one is created because we assume that our intuitive answer is correct.

This barrier is invisible and largely undetectable at this stage.  Next, continue the experiment and build barrier number two, confirming the assumptions. 

Step 3.

Ask the leaders to work in pairs to share their answers and agree on the new right answer, i.e. decision and a prioritised list of items. Allow ten minutes.

You will see the teams of two trade arguments, share made-up facts, and perhaps engage in some coercion. By the end of the ten minutes, each unit of two will have reinforced that they are “mostly right”.

Because the intuitive part of your mind is a lot more powerful than you may think, we quickly defend our assertions and develop “Logic” to support them all in the blink of an eye. In his book “How we know what isn’t so”, Thomas Gilovich walks us through the process we use to reinforce our assumptions and biases, and he shares strategies to overcome this natural way of thinking.

In my experiment, it only takes three steps and about 16 minutes to create strong factions. 

The last part of the experiment is to ask the smaller units to work as one large team to generate a new prioritised list in 15 minutes or less. 

In almost every case, the larger team will spend practically all of their energy trying to convince the others that their answers are right and little energy exploring possibilities. When one person within the group is the actual positional leader, i.e. the senior ranking person, they may start to use their positional power to force a conclusion, which usually resembles their first answer. They will then create the logic to support their actions and not waste time on reflecting on what just happened.

Most of us like to think we are not that kind of leader, that we are capable of making rational decisions, listening to other’s views and taking them onboard. The fact is we rely on our gut instinct and then create the logic to support this, while this  is not always a bad thing, left unchecked, it can create an enormous blind spot that blocks out the intellect and innovations that only teams can generate.

When we hold that our beliefs, judgements and opinions are based on solid reasoning, we put ourselves and our organisations in peril.

It’s time to think again.

Join BREAKTHROUGH 2020 and get leadership tools that solve this and other leadership challenges for good.


Good reads to help in the mean time:

Thinking, Fast and Slow

Thinking, Fast and Slow by [Kahneman, Daniel]

Prof Daniel Kahneman, from Princeton University, started a revolution in our understanding of the human mind. It’s a revolution that led to him winning a Nobel Prize.

How we know what isn’t so.

How We Know What Isn't So: Fallibility of Human Reason in Everyday Life by [Gilovich, Thomas]
Thomas Gilovich
His research focuses on everyday human judgment: How do people assess what they and others are like, what the future has in store, and what events in the past “really mean”?

If you are interested in learning more about MGL or how to implement any of our models with your team, please contact chris@makinggreatleaders.com or call +1 203 253 2836.

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