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Leadership and management are prone to biases, here’s how you can mitigate it

By | 30/06/2022 in Blog posts

Our institutions are routinely being accused of being ‘ist’. The Metropolitan Police and the Yorkshire Cricket Club are institutionally racist. The Business community is sexist. The Labour Party has been anti-semitic and Parliament chauvinistic. But individuals within those institutions would challenge that assertion as far as it applies to them as individuals and indeed in many cases seek to establish quite the contrary behaviour. Assuming the institutional label is accurate and the individual’s self-assessment is genuine and fair, how is it that collectively a group can be ‘…….ist’ when its component parts are not?

What are lessons then for a board of directors? How can it avoid be guilty of an ‘…ism or presiding over a culture which is ‘..isitic’? In smaller groups we know of the unhelpful impacts of ‘group think’ and ‘confirmation bias’ ; ways in which otherwise fair minded and objective minds can be tempted into a way of thinking which delivers a different outcome than that which they would have reached independently. There are a few areas which if given attention can help to mitigate the risk of leadership and management drifting into bias.

Firstly, leadership needs to reflect the communities it seeks to lead. Increasing the diversity of leadership makes it harder for an ‘…..ist’ culture to take hold as there are more different voices represented at the table.

Secondly, leadership needs to encourage and model inclusive behaviour. This means everyone’s voices are heard and respected, decision making is based on collective agreement rather than individual power and that different points of view are actively sought out.

Thirdly, leadership should establish robust governance processes which make it clear what the rules and expectations are around behaviour and decision making. These need to be well communicated and consistently applied.

If leadership can create an organisation which is truly representative of the communities it seeks to serve then it is much less likely to be accused of bias.


James Bagge is the executive chairman and co-founder of Bvalco, a board evaluation consultancy focused on helping boards become fit for the future

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