Are you an objective leader?

Our perceptions are inherently subjective, shaped as they are by past experiences, mental models, and expectations. This is why overreacting, taking things personally, jumping to conclusions, and judging people unfairly are tendencies common to us all. It is possible, though, to increase your objectivity; in fact, your effectiveness as a leader depends on it.


Objectivity means responding thoughtfully, deliberately, and effectively to the people, situations, and circumstances in our lives.

1. Overcome individual bias through collective intelligence.
To understand situations from all angles, it is important to gather information and perspectives from other team members and, when appropriate, from cross-functional areas within the organization. Other team members will most likely see the situation through a different lens, and their perspectives may be very valuable for helping you arrive at more objective conclusions.

2. Take note of your emotions and intuitions.
While scientists continue to debate the origin and validity of intuition, leaders should not discount their emotions or intuitive responses to situations. Instead, they should consider them valuable data points to analyze and evaluate. Remember, once you become aware of them, you can choose to be influenced by them or not!

3. Evaluate validity or usefulness of your assumptions.
After identifying your emotional responses, write down the assumptions associated with them and evaluate their validity or usefulness to the decision-making process:
• Challenge negative thoughts and feelings, which tend to dwarf other, equally valid, considerations.
• Ask someone on your team or in your network to help you by weighing in with their outside perspective.

4. Choose an objective response, taking possible consequences into account.
Once you have identified and determined the usefulness and validity of your assumptions, the next step is to brainstorm new ways of thinking about the situation. It is important to engage this process as non-judgmentally as possible; otherwise you will stifle creativity and innovative thought. Finally, choose the most objective response!

5. Explain your decision to the team.
After you make your decision, but before you execute it, gain buy-in and support by communicating your objective decision-making process to other key stakeholders. The conversation should be concise, non-defensive, and collaborative.

Based on Elizabeth R. Thornton’s ongoing column, The Objective Leader, published by Psychology Today and her book The Objective Leader: How to Leverage the Power of Seeing Things as They Are (Palgrave Macmillan, February 2015).

Read it again in Business Digest:
Decision fatigue: Keeping a clear head in all situations

UsBD22102-1A synthesis of several publications, accompanied by interviews with Dennis Cooper, former air traffic controller of the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), currently a psychologist for the Department of National Defence (Canada), and Thierry Boiron, president of the Boiron group, October 2011.
Business Digest N° 221, November 2011.