When we believe something to be true, it has a powerful effect. It often leads us to tap into a tendency known as confirmation bias.

Confirmation bias is the natural propensity to “gather evidence that confirms preexisting expectations, typically by emphasizing or pursuing supporting evidence while dismissing or failing to seek contradictory evidence,” explains the American Psychological Association.

In short, we become blind to things that contradict what we believe to be true.

This will impact your leadership.

“We only see what we want to see; we only hear what we want to hear. Our belief system is just like a mirror that only shows us what we believe.”

 ~ Don Miguel Ruiz

In a very real way, we tend to only see and seek what we believe.

Beware of the stories you tell yourself

One of the most common areas I find myself coaching senior executive leaders around are the stories they hold about other people, about their organization, about the future or the past. These are not stories in a fictional sense. Rather, they are nonfiction narratives they view as true in that moment.

All of us, including leaders, create stories all the time to make sense of what is going on around us. Creating stories isn’t the issue.

Leaders sometimes hold onto their stories as if they are absolutely true. In these instances, the stories become Truth with a capital “T” — and that’s what gets them in trouble.

When we hold to our stories as if they are Truth rather than true for us, we are no longer in a position of curiosity. We close ourselves down. We don’t listen to learn. We find ourselves defending our Truth. We can even oppose others who make sense of things differently.

We lose the ability to see new possibilities. We become blind.

And then, novel solutions co-created from the synthesis of differing views become inaccessible to us.

Avoiding blind leadership

To avoid going blind, I advise you to simply:

  1. Notice your stories.
  2. Hold those stories with an open hand.
  3. Be reverently curious about stories others hold and where they are derived from. Listen to learn.
  4. Add to your thinking the things you learn.

We only see what we believe. If you believe that others have valuable insights that you don’t have access to, then you’ll be eager to hold onto your stories loosely and learn from others.

Leaders who can do this tend to co-create coordinated movement. This is leadership.

Michael Hein
About the author

Michael Hein, MD has over 20 years of healthcare leadership experience in multi-specialty practice, large integrated health systems, academic medicine, and start-up companies. He has extensive clinical leadership experience and deep knowledge in transformational change.

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