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13 Steps To Avoid and Overcome Leadership Self-Serving Bias

13 Steps To Avoid and Overcome Leadership Self-Serving Bias

ALEXIOS GEORGAKOPOULOS
11/22/2023
13 Steps To Avoid and Overcome Leadership Self-Serving Bias

When everything goes well, you’re the winner, the leader, the one who gets all the credit. Then again, when things go wrong, it’s Bob’s or Anne’s fault. That right there, folks, is leadership self-serving bias. And unfortunately, it’s quite common among leaders, managers, and the like.

You see, we all like to be praised and despise getting scolded. But, when you’re in a leadership position, it’s usually a matter of diminishing your self-esteem or overinflating your ego in either case. Simply put, you want all the praise and’ll put the rest of the team down to do so.

Now, this doesn’t apply to everyone. And I can safely say that many leaders have found a way to utilize self-serving bias and effectively implement it in their leadership style. But, I’m directly talking to this group that understands this bias within themselves. And, for these folks specifically, I’ve got all the help you’ll need to overcome it.

So, today, let’s start this journey to overcoming leadership self-serving bias. We’ll also look at everything you need to know to not fall victim to it as a leader and get a glimpse of the psychology behind it. All in just one article,

Who’s To Blame? – Understanding Leadership Self-Serving Bias

So, who’s to blame? Is it your fault that the team didn’t deliver on the latest project? Or was the team at fault? Or, maybe it was the weather/the AC wasn’t working/the internet connection was slow.

These are all reasons managers and executives with self-serving biases will utilize to not get themselves in a pickle. To fully understand this, though, we must dive deeper, so strap on and get ready for a ride!

Let me introduce you to a fancy phrase: locus of control. Simply put, it’s whether you attribute your life to internal or external factors. This is directly connected to self-serving bias, which, in itself, means blaming outside influences for negative outcomes and inside ones for every success.

“But, Alex, why do we care about that?”, you might ask. Well, your locus of control might be why you have a self-serving bias. You see, if you don’t find the right balance, you can end up internalizing all the good things while blaming your team for all the bad ones.

That, in itself, can really hurt your workplace culture, which I’ll talk more about below. You see when you actively show that you blame the team without giving them any credit, nobody will open up with new ideas – if there’s anyone left on your team by the end of it.

Other Factors Affecting The Degree Of Self-Serving Bias

Alright, let’s cover some more factors so that you can have a clear idea of your own self-serving bias. Because, let’s be real, we all have it to some degree.

For starters, we have the motivations for said bias. And these all come down to your self-esteem and confidence. If you’ve yet to improve your self-confidence as a leader, you’ll want to enhance your presentation of yourself as much as possible. And that's alright if it’s done within reason. The thing is, that’s not usually the case.

Then again, there are some biological reasons that can affect the degree of your bias, like your age, culture, and gender. But, I won’t go too deep into these, as they usually differ from person to person.

Are You a Victim of Self-Serving Bias? – Identifying The Issue With Workplace Examples

Now it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty. And I don’t use the word victim lightly here. Yes, self-serving bias comes in varying degrees, but I’m only targeting the upper echelon of these here. So, are you, as a leader, using self-serving bias for self-enhancement?

Let’s look at some general examples. Say that you’re a VP of Marketing, and you’ve just successfully launched the branding for a startup. But, despite performing pretty well overall, the social media side of things was a bit iffy. What would you do in that case when reporting to the client and the executives?

Let’s imagine you say something along the lines of “I took full control of the whole process besides the social media team, which is why they underperformed”. That’s self-serving bias. Unless it’s the facts. But, even in that case, you didn’t give credit to the rest of the team for performing so well.

Now, let’s see another more internal example. As the CFO, you made a mistake in allocating the total funds, and now you have to speak to the board. Do you blame the market for being in a bad state or admit that you didn’t research the market thoroughly enough? The latter is taking up responsibility. The former is self-serving bias.

I think that you have a much better idea of what this bias is. There are tons of other types of biases, but we’d be here all day if I went over these. Instead, I want us to take a look at how you can avoid self-serving bias. Or how you can overcome it if you’ve identified it in yourself.

Armor Up – 4 Ways To Avoid Self-Serving Bias

As I always say, the best way to fight something is by avoiding it in the first place. So, let’s get you a new set of armor against leadership self-serving bias! To do so, we’ll need to look at some of the core issues with it and see how you can avoid them completely.

Understand Its Hints

For starters, you’ll need to find the bias’ weak points. Or, rather, you’ll have to understand when it starts creeping up on you. This takes some effort, as its hints tend to be subtle at first. Adding some extra credit to your score here. Blaming the team for missing a deadline there. You know, the usual.

That said, as soon as you understand some of these early signs, avoiding self-serving bias altogether won’t be hard. After all, you’ll clearly see where you need to improve, be that your productivity or leadership skills, and you’ll do so swiftly.

Embrace Mistakes and Failures

Then again, as a leader, you’ll often fall victim to the idea that failure is evil. Mistakes should never ever happen in the workplace. And even though this is usually a clear sign of a leadership insecurity, the idea is embraced by way too many managers and executives. Now, it’s your time to change that!

You see, it’s through doing things wrong that a person can grow. That also includes yourself, by the way. Making mistakes or failing an assignment is the best way to see how you can improve. How your team can improve. Where there are internal issues to be fixed. And fix them, you will, since you don’t want them to be an excuse for things going wrong!

Think First, Judge Second

Alright, let me get real with you on this one. Many leaders will be the first to judge their team instead of themselves for a failed project. And, to be fair, that is kind of understandable in some cases. But, in the majority of these, it’s better to sit down and have a good think about the why.

Why did things go south? Why did you not hit that deadline? Why was the team not motivated to work on this more? It’s questions like these that can help you understand who’s at fault, be that yourself or your team. Or, more often than not, both parties. And that, in turn, will help you not fall victim to judging your team when you’re really the one to blame.

Journaling and Mindfulness

And now, we’re back to the more deep solutions. Look, taking the time to practice mindfulness and journal is something you’ve heard from every coach out there. That’s because it actually works, and it’ll help you avoid self-serving bias quite well.

Bouncing off of what I said above, when you notice the first hints creeping up, the practical solution is journaling and any form of mindfulness practice. It’s just you and yourself talking. If you want to take this a step further, make a vision board and have a chat with your future self. See what they have to say.

Let’s Get Ready To Rumble – 4 Ways To Prepare For The Fight Against Leadership Self-Serving Bias

Now, let’s prepare for the fight against self-serving bias. You’ve fallen victim to it once, but now it’s time to one-up it. You have your gear ready, your armor on, so, let’s get ready to rumble!

Promote Feedback

I’ll let you in on a little secret. Feedback is your secret weapon. That little potion that will make this fight a lot easier. Encourage it, embrace it, and most importantly, act on it. Let your team feel safe to express their thoughts and ideas. Let them show you a clear picture of reality. Don’t focus on the little reality colored by your biases.

This open line of communication helps in catching your self-serving tendencies off-guard. This allows you to remain grounded and connected to your team's actual experiences and contributions.

Be THE Example

There's no better way to combat self-serving bias than by leading by exa… No, scratch that. Be THE example; don’t just lead by it. Say, “Team, I’m at fault here. I’m sorry”. Especially in times of failure. Show them that this is respected whenever it’s done by anyone.

This approach helps build a culture of trust and accountability, where successes are shared and failures are seen as collective learning opportunities. Growth opportunities. Not just individual shortcomings.

Accuracy Comes First…

But, Alex, you might say. What if the fight isn’t so up close? What if I need to hit self-serving bias with a bow from far away? Accuracy is what you need. Alright, that was too poetic, so let me get a bit more practical. As a leader, it's easy to lose sight of reality. As I said above, much of the stuff you believe might just be your biases speaking. Strive for accuracy in all your assessments.

Take the time to gather all relevant information before making judgments, especially during challenging situations. Remember, think first, judge second. Accurate and unbiased evaluations enhance your decision-making. But they are there to ensure that credit and responsibility are fairly distributed.

Followed Closely By Gratitude!

Gratitude is the antidote to self-serving bias – more like its kryptonite. Regularly expressing appreciation for your team’s efforts creates a positive feedback loop.

This not only boosts morale but also reinforces the idea that success is a team effort. By acknowledging the contributions of others, you set a tone of humility and collaboration, essential qualities for any effective leader.

Say Hello To The 5 Selves – Looking Inside To Overcome Self-Serving Bias

The journey is slowly coming to an end, folks. It’s here that I want to highlight the importance of truly strengthening yourself from within. The ‘5 Selves’ are upon you.

The Self-A’s – Self-Awareness and Self-Acceptance

Begin with introspection. Self-awareness is about understanding your motivations, strengths, and weaknesses. Self-acceptance follows, acknowledging and embracing your imperfections.

This combination helps you recognize when self-serving bias is influencing your actions, allowing you to recalibrate your approach in a more balanced and fair manner.

The Self-C’s – Self-Compassion and Self-Care

Be kind to yourself. Self-compassion means giving yourself the same understanding you’d offer to others. Coupled with self-care, it ensures that you’re in the best mental and emotional state to lead effectively.

This approach reduces the need to bolster your ego at the expense of others and promotes a more empathetic and authentic leadership style.

The Self-E – Self-Esteem

Cultivating a healthy self-esteem is crucial. It’s about striking a balance – feeling confident in your abilities without overstepping into arrogance. When your self-esteem is grounded in reality, you can share triumphs and acknowledge failures without feeling threatened.

This balance is key to combating self-serving bias, as it allows you to view successes and setbacks through a lens of growth and collaboration rather than personal gain or loss.

Don’t Blame The Ocean – R.I.D.E. The Wave

And that folks is how you can truly avoid, overcome, and fight leadership self-serving bias. A tough fight, to say the least. But, one that you’ll need to attend to if you want to be respected by your time. And, most importantly, by yourself. So, don’t blame the ocean. Simply R.I.D.E. the Wave and let it take you to shore!

At Wave, our team of coaches, with the help of our personalized AI, will help you achieve just that. No, not surfing the ocean. Unless that’s one of your goals. Rather, we’ll help you achieve your goals, no matter how complicated or simple they are!

Interested in starting working on your goals? Book your first session now.

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When everything goes well, you’re the winner, the leader, the one who gets all the credit. Then again, when things go wrong, it’s Bob’s or Anne’s fault. That right there, folks, is leadership self-serving bias. And unfortunately, it’s quite common among leaders, managers, and the like.You see, we all like to be praised and despise getting scolded. But, when you’re in a leadership position, it’s usually a matter of diminishing your self-esteem or overinflating your ego in either case. Simply put, you want all the praise and’ll put the rest of the team down to do so.

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