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Watch out for your leadership biases

Dog and cat

The world is divided into two different types of people – dog people and cat people.

My husband and I share our farm with three horses, two dogs, a mule and 30 cats.  Yes, you read that right – 30 cats. I’m a cat person.

It wasn’t always that way. My two brothers and I begged our parents for a dog when we were kids. I don’t know whether it was our pleas or if our parents decided that a canine would be a welcome addition to the family, but at some point they relented and King joined our family. He came from the dog pound (I don’t remember it being called a shelter at that time). My brother Kevin named King. Since Kevin’s name started with a ‘K’, the dog’s name must as well. Interestingly, many years later, he named his daughter Kourtney. Perhaps for the same reason?! I digress. King became an instant member of the family and I was a “dog person”. I didn’t like cats. I had a bias that favored dogs – not cats.

The bias was understandable. I didn’t know any cats. All my friends had dogs. Cats, it seemed to me, didn’t become close members of the family. They were loners. The only thing I knew about cats was they chased mice. 

That would be a factoid that would become important to me years later.

I love country living – except for the mice. I had heard if you saw one mouse, there were 50. I don’t know if that is statistically correct but I did know we had more mice than I was comfortably cohabitating with. I recalled the knowledge from my youth – cats chase mice.  It turned out to be true. 

Our first three cats were barn cats – to keep the barn mouse-free. And they did. People advised me not to feed the cats or they wouldn’t hunt. It didn’t take long to realize that cats, even well fed ones, hunt mice. It’s what they do. If I fed them, they hunted closer to home. I liked that. And I liked the cats. The more I got to know them, the more I liked them. 

We challenge biases by expanding our knowledge and experiences

Biases and stereotypes are normal. We all have them. We hold biases about people, about careers, about our business competition, about industries, about products, about beliefs…about almost everything. As we expand our own knowledge and broaden our experiences, we naturally challenge our biases and stereotypes – usually with good outcomes.

As leaders, one of our greatest challenges is to ensure that our biases, and those of the people entrusted to our care, either consciously or unconsciously held, don’t prevent us from reaching our potential.

The more we are open to learning about a wide range of things, people and experiences, especially those unfamiliar to us, the more our leadership potential has a chance to fully mature and our own lives are enriched. 

What biases do you hold? Are they holding you back as a leader?

What biases hold sway in your team? In your department? In your organization? What can you do to positively challenge those biases and stereotypes?

Excuse me while I get some tuna for my house cat who is chirping at me.

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