Do you have a leadership bias? Part 1

I confess. I have a leadership bias. This bias may be related to my leadership addiction. After many years of reflecting, soul-searching and validation, I can announce it to the world. I have an affinity for people who have gone through the crucible of similar experiences. They are comrades in arms, battle tested warriors from the same platoon; people who sacrificed and defended each other. In situations of doubt, where a decision has to be made, I defer to those in power, believing we share a common bond in the leadership struggle.

Recently, I sat in a restaurant and was asked about my vocation. I mentioned my years of leadership experience in the pharmaceutical industry. This initiated a spirited conversation about big corporations and big government. One patron believed that pharmaceutical companies were only out to make a quick dollar and were withholding the cures to cancers because we made more money on maintenance medicines. He felt that corporations and government were ruled by the profit motif and did not care about the average citizen.

I was mobilized into action. I went into full defense mode. I gave him data on drug discovery and limited patented coverage, generic drugs and the cost to bring a drug to market. I almost implied that he should feel guilty attacking the humanity of noble scientists who chose science to save lives and eradicate diseases. He reluctantly conceded to my argument with the caveat that my company may be different. As I reflected on my actions on the way home, I realized, I had firmly displayed a leadership bias.

I instinctively grant leaders the edge, the benefit of the doubt and presume their motives are admirable, even if I do not know them. It is important for me to learn about my leadership bias, its symptoms, consequences and potential complications and methods of treatment. These characteristics may be relevant in other areas of my life, as I live and breathe and interact with people.

Acquisition

I acquired a leadership bias as a side effect of years of exposure to good leadership. I have learned from phenomenal leaders. I was enthralled by their positive performances and magnanimous motives. This exposure left me predisposed to siding with leadership in many instances.

Additionally, I have been a manager for many years. There were numerous books, movies, training programs and on the job experiences. My leadership immersion conditioned me to the value of a vision, making fair decisions, developing people and leading a team. This exposure fine tuned my expertise and made me speak, dress and act as a leader. I felt a part of an association of leaders because we shared similar experiences. Subconsciously, I was filled with the desire to defend leadership, when challenged.  I am not naive. I have been in the presence of leaders who were not very good and were hostile to anyone who disputed or challenged their authority and I knew the difference. You can also identify your propensity to have a leadership bias based on your background.

Symptoms

You can easily identify the leadership bias, by our tendency to defend those in positions of power. This reminds me of episodes of the television show Colombo where the guilty party usually tried to explain the position of the criminal. They would find themselves going overboard defending a suspected criminal, while implicating themselves. This would eventually lead to their capture. Similar to these actors, people with the leadership bias, consistently give leaders the benefit of the doubt and ask for patience and understanding on their behalf.

A local news station was canvassing the city for people to interview during a heat spell. Commonwealth Edison the local electric supplier had instituted a policy of rolling black outs to manage their supply of electricity. My brother asked me to give the interview. I told the reporter that if the management of the electric company thought this was the best way to manage the power, we should defer to their expertise. I immediately took management’s position. I knew that in most situations leaders had access to more information. They could make better decisions because of this abundance of information. The reporter thanked me and told us to look for the interview on the 6 o’clock and 10 o’clock news.

The topic of Commonwealth Edison and energy shortage was the lead story. The station ran my comments about yielding to management’s assessment of using rolling blackouts to manage the supply of energy. My comments were followed by the mayor giving the opposite view blasting the energy company. I realized that I had been defending leadership for years.

As a middle manager I was challenged by my people about the decisions of upper management. I knew more about the decision-making process and some of the variables which led to the decision. But, I was often sworn to withhold some of the data because it was either sensitive to the stock market or we felt the competition would find out. I told my people that if they had more information they would understand the decision better. I would say the following, “Right now you have questions about the decision that was made. Trust me, if you knew more about the variable considered, we would look a lot more intelligent to you.” They would laugh and we would move on. Examine your past behavior for symptoms.  You may have displayed this tendency without realizing it.

Copyright © 2013 Orlando Ceaser

Do you have a leadership bias? – Part 2 is scheduled for Monday, February 4, 2013

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