By Bob Pothier (@Bob_Pothier), Director for Partners in Leadership and a former GE executive who works with leaders to help them better manage their culture to achieve exceptional results.
Take this short test.
On a scale of 1-10 (1 = I'm the worst; 5 = I'm average; and 10 = I'm the best) rate yourself on the following skills:
- Pure Intelligence
- Emotional Intelligence
- Musical Talent
- Hard Working
My guess is most of your scores are above a 5. How do I know? Because when it comes to taking this quiz, you're average. Most people rate themselves "above average" on a list like this. It's called "self-bias" and it's a survival instinct wired into our brains...and it's likely hurting your career.
Self-Bias Both Helps and Hurts Us
By definition, most of us can't be "above average". A true average has as many people above 5 as below and most grouped between 4-6. But the majority of us don't see ourselves that way, despite facts to the contrary.
This cognitive bias is quite a hopeful and optimistic mindset. It helps us overcome obstacles and be happier. After all, ignorance can be bliss.
However, when it comes to our professional lives, self-bias can have long-term negative impacts. Here are some warning signs and how to avoid them.
1. Self-Bias Keeps You from Seeking Feedback
Most people equate feedback with "criticism" and none of us like that, so we avoid it. However, feedback is the most important way to avoid self-bias traps. Our self-delusion can be corrected if we're constantly holding ourselves accountable to seek information from others on how we're doing.
But, those good at seeking feedback seek both appreciative and constructive feedback and act on both. So, ask for feedback, but guide the person you're asking to think about what you do well and how they would coach you on the next step in your development.
2. Self-Bias Has You Content with How Things Are
Complacency is the by-product of too much self-bias. Your self-bias is keeping you from getting that additional training, spending a bit more time on that project, taking that challenging new position, or developing a new skill. Self-bias works against pushing ourselves.
So, think of one thing your content with and decide to push it a bit more. It might seem uncomfortable, but overcoming this tendency will help you break through barriers you unconsciously put around you and do wonders for your career.
3. Self-Bias Causes You to Externalize Problems Instead of Internalizing Them
You're working many problems. However, your self-bias is telling you the reason for these problems is not you but someone or something else: your boss is too demanding; marketing isn't giving you good leads; R&D isn't innovating fast enough; the economy is tough; customers are too picky. The list goes on.
If you externalize these problems, you will never get to the root of solving them. The starting point is to take personal accountability, see yourself in them, and then work on what you can control. Your self-bias doesn't want you to be part of the problem, but the problem needs you to own it or it won't get fixed.
4. Self-Bias is Keeping You from Being More Creative
Your self-bias wants you to think you're smart when it comes to solving problems. So, the first one or two things you think are the solution you'll tend to immediately try and implement. Unfortunately, creatively dealing with real problems requires work, thinking, and time--and your self-bias is keeping you from making that extra effort.
Next time you have a big problem, slow down, don't speed up. Write down the first 1-3 solutions you think will work. Then go out and collect data on those ideas. Are you focusing on the right thing? Ask other people. Do they see it the same way? Ask yourself what you're overlooking.
Your self-bias doesn't want you doing any of that, because it's telling you "you're smarter than most and you have the quick solutions." By being diligent and seeking others' insights, you'll find the right solution more often.
Advance Your Career by Avoiding Self-Bias Pitfalls
We all have a self-bias, some stronger than others. That knowledge, however, can help you avoid this cognitive bias. Watch for when your brain wants to assure you "I'm good, no more work required." That doesn't mean to listen to the voice that says, "you suck", but it does mean you have blind spots and we don't want those blind spots to cause a wreck in our careers.
Follow these above guidelines when you start to hear that self-bias voice and you'll accelerate your success.