How natural biases affect decisions, and what to do about it

3 minute read

Let’s face it... some people make better choices than others. Just look at the rising divorce rate or number of people who have accidentally sent a racy photo to a total stranger. However, while these decisions are indeed bad, they probably aren't affecting too many people.


Poor choices made by leaders in business or politics, on the other hand, tend to bring more harm to the rest of society. But the people responsible for these blunders were all intelligent and accomplished individuals - where does one go wrong?

IQ is a critical factor when it comes to leadership. Without a little intellectual horsepower, modern leaders would struggle to get their jobs done, particularly given all the hundreds of decisions that need to be made on a day to day basis. 

“IQ has been found to predict real-world success, such as college grades, job performance, and leadership effectiveness,” Hogan CEO Dr Thomas Chamorro-Premuzic wrote in a post on Management Today. 

But as we mentioned above, some people make better choices than others and following on from that, even smart people, with the highest IQ, are capable of acting stupid. Let’s look at what else is at play then.


Natural Biases

Now with IQ and judgement, we would all think of ourselves as rational. But we are entirely subject to innate biases. Everyday our brains make around 35,000 remotely conscious choices per day. Think about when you make your morning coffee, to the route you take to work, to big business decisions on where your business is going.

But put a person in a highly stressed or fatigued situation, their decision-making skills tend to falter, and they give in to their irrationalities. This isn’t a bad thing though, if you are able to identify this pattern. Once you can identify your irrationalities, you will be able to leverage these biases to work to your advantage.

Let’s look further at the biases that likely affect your judgement, and how, with a healthy dose of self-awareness, you can turn each into a strength. 

1. You're too focused on risks or rewards

Some individuals focus primarily on the negative side of the risk-reward equation. Many leaders have an unwillingness to take risks which may make them less competitive in the future. On the flip side, some individuals seek rewards despite potential consequences, which could, in some situations, result in catastrophic failures. 

2. Thinking too tactically or too strategically

Tactical thinkers tend to focus on implementation causing them to miss the big picture. Strategic thinkers, on the other hand, look ahead, see approaching trends and changes in the marketplace. Great leaders would be able to explain the significance of the journey, taking their team along with them to encourage the team to work towards a common goal. 

3. Relying too much on data or intuition

Data is used to inform decisions ranging from customer offerings to how to win ball games. However, with all this data, also comes greater anxiety and indecision as one isn’t able to make any decisions without the data. Intuition, on the other hand, allows for fast, automatic, and effortless decision-making. Sometimes it is just better to trust your gut.

Data and intuition are not incompatible or mutually exclusive. There is a wonderful synergy between the two and using both can help you be a strong and influential decision maker. 

To summarise, the key to consistently good judgment is understanding and balancing your biases. Consider the following:

  • Biases make us uncomfortable: Commit to seeking negative feedback from people you respect. This will help you grow. 
  • Biases make other people uncomfortable too: Incentivise others to give you negative feedback because generally, people feel uncomfortable when giving brutally honest feedback. 
  • Biases clash with popular culture: Try to downplay any advice that is designed to make you feel better; it is much better to be aware of your biases, and leverage these as strengths.