Understanding Implicit Bias In Leadership
We've all got subtle understandings of the world that bias the way we think, and when you are working to build a business, the last thing you need are these biases affecting the way your team thinks and operates to solve problems.
Implicit bias is one of my biggest challenges as a leader. To truly build an innovative company, I have to make sure not only that I am thinking with as minimal a bias as possible, but also that my words don't create additional bias within the way my team attacks problems and innovates.
Wrench in the Machine
I first saw that I had an impact on the way my team solved problems when we were overcoming some early sales hurdles. I wanted my team to adapt quickly and attack new market verticals to find the areas of fastest adoption, but they were only operating within a certain subset of the hospital market.
I was confused because I knew the team was smart enough to find and test different markets, but it was almost as if they were actively choosing not to.
I investigated the problem and had an open dialogue, and it turned out some of the phrasing I had used when I set the problem statement for them had caused them to specifically focus on a hospital subset rather than on all market verticals.
Simply because of my position as a leader, and because I had been careless with my phrasing of a problem statement, it had created implicit bias in the way the problem was being solved.
I took these learnings from my sales team, and how my phrasing of a problem statement created bias, and I applied it when I went to my R&D team. I changed the way that I spoke about problems, and never referred to any potential pathways to a solution. Instead I only focused on the pure problem, and the end goal that I wanted the R&D solutions to achieve.
The key learning was this: when you are a leader, any pathway to a solution that you suggest will be prioritized. This is the implicit bias you create in your team's creative process.
So why is anything you say as a leader prioritized? And why does it cause implicit bias and create such drastic differences in creativity and problem solving? It's actually a pretty easy answer - social pressure.
To be a great leader, and to encourage creativity, you must be aware of the implicit bias you cause.