The sunk cost bias appears when we’ve invested considerable time and effort into something that is not going well, but we simply can’t give it up. If we did, we’d feel like a failure. This often happens in churches when we keep a ministry alive when we need to kill it. Suggestion: What ministry or project is not working and draining your soul? If you could magically make it go away, how would you feel? If, as you imagine it gone, you feel a great weight off your shoulders, you may have succumbed to this bias. It may be time to kill that program or project.
Leaders would like to think that they lead in unbiased ways. However, that’s easier said than done. The fall of man affected every part of who we are, including our thinking. Brain biases abound. A Google search reveals almost 200 different biases. Among those 200, what brain biases poses the greatest threat to effective leadership? In this post I explain five and suggest an idea for each to counter its potential negative impact.
Scientists call these ‘brain’ biases cognitive biases, judgment errors that rise from our tendency to mentally jump to conclusions. Daniel Kahneman, Nobel prize winner and author of the book, Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls them heuristics, mental shortcuts we use when we make decisions. Because our brain has limited energy, we can’t consciously ‘think’ before every decision.
Therefore, we intuitively make many decisions (over 40 percent of what we do is habit) that require limited mental resources and allocate our brain energy only to those that require our immediate attention. As a result, we sometimes don’t make the best decisions, which can impair our leadership.
Here are my top 5 brain biases and suggestions for responding to them.
The confirmation bias. This bias reflects our preference for those who agree with us. We subconsciously look for people and information to confirm our preexisting beliefs, actions, and attitudes. As a result we spotlight only the information that supports the decision we want to make and we tend to discard negative input that we need to see the full picture and make the wisest decision.
Suggestion: Do a pre-mortem on a planned ministry or initiative. Before you make the decision, gather your team and ask, “Let’s assume we did (such and such) and it gloriously failed. What would we say contributed to the failure?” Allow full and frank discussion.