Are you a Biased Manager?

Seven Cognitive Biases of Management

People like to think that their perspective on the world is an absolute truth. However, the human mind is fraught with bias. Cognitive bias is an error in thinking. Instead of making decisions based on evidence, cognitive bias is the act of irrational decision making. Cognitive bias facilitates subjective thinking rather than objective thinking. Managers, like other people may be guilty of these irrational thinking patterns. One way to become a better manager is to understand how your thought process leads to poor decisions. When reading these biases, think of how you can improve your management practices to be more objective.


Zeigarnik effect

If managers only notice the tasks their employees do not complete, they may be victim to the Zeigarnik effect. Counteract this bias by coming up with weekly goals and tasks with employees. Document and manage tasks with an agenda builder. Maintaining a digital document of tasks will offer insight into which tasks your employees are struggling with and which tasks take the least amount of effort.


Verbatim effect

Suppose you recall telling your employee that an important project was due Monday. However, they insist you said Tuesday. In reality, you may have said the project was due the beginning of the week, which would allow for subjective interpretation on both parties. To prevent open interpretation, remember to be precise about dates by creating a due date for important tasks with an agenda builder. Direct and descriptive communication is key. Utilize the an app that helps managers and employees with documentation of dates and agendas.


Part-list cueing effect

By now, you should have the to-do list and each employee should know what’s expected of them. Right? Wrong. This cognitive bias makes it especially challenging for list makers. Most employees will see the first task on the list and solely focus on that one task at the expense of all the other tasks.

Managers can prevent the part-list cueing effect by providing weekly bitesize lists. Keep the lists relatively small- at most five tasks per week.  At the end of the week, follow through to make sure everyone’s completing their assigned tasks.



Salience derives from the Latin word salire, which means “to leap”. In other words, salience is a bias of leaping or jumping to conclusions such as noticing one component of a whole. Many people tend to focus on a pronounced characteristic of a concept or person. One example of the salience effect is how violence reported by the media creates a heightened perspective of vulnerability, even if you live in a safe neighborhood.

For managers, saying one negative thing can wreak havoc on your relationship with your employee. They will remember that one negative remark rather than all of the positive things you have said only because the negative remark stands out from all of the positive remarks. Strive to provide constructive and positive feedback that will increase employee motivation. Not sure how to conduct an employee performance evaluation? Read these employee performance evaluation tips.



While there isn’t anything wrong with self-confidence, a manager’s hubris can blind them of their weaknesses. Many people overestimate their abilities, whereas successful people tend to focus improving themselves. Set realistic goals- goals can be means that will help you accomplish your tasks in an efficient manner. Goals do not have to necessarily be inherent to an individual, they can be related to the environment. Notice which factors are delaying your goals and take action. This requires lots of self-awareness: Take note of your surroundings and how you react to your surroundings. If you notice it’s difficult to stay focused in an open office, find a room where it’s quiet or invest in noise reduction headphones. As a manager, ask your employees to write down what areas they can improve on instead of what you think they can improve on. Turn these improvements into goals. Self-introspection will help combat the overconfidence bias.


Planning fallacy

 The planning fallacy is a bias many project managers encounter. In a nutshell, individuals will either overestimate their contribution or underestimate the timeline needed to accomplish a project. One thing to remember is that the longer and more tedious the task, the more influence the planning fallacy will have on that project. Counteract the planning fallacy by delegating and segmenting tasks into weekly agendas. Divide the tasks among your team and assign weekly goals for each individual and each team. Luckily, there are apps to help you plan projects and manage employee tasks.


The survivorship bias

Survivorship bias is when one only notices the survivors while neglecting to consider the non-survivors. Companies and managers are often guilty of this bias- they only focus on business strategies that survived while not taking into account random processes that could affect the outcome of such events. When your friend suggests that the two of you open a restaurant in a particular neighborhood because all of the restaurants in that area are successful, research how many restaurants have failed in that particular location. Dig deeper and try to find other factors that may contribute to the failure or success of a specific business strategy. If you are a manager, take note of people who have left the company or people who were fired. It will provide insight into improving management practices. When you hire new employees, document their progress: write down goals related to training, employee development and productivity. Just remember to be objective with your documentation.


Qualities of a Good Manager include Rational Decision Making

Now you are aware of how cognitive biases can lead to poor judgement. The aforementioned cognitive biases are ones in particular that can cause managers to think irrationally. In fact, there are hundreds of biases that affect one’s thinking. If you are interested in improving your rational thinking, try brain training, an online quiz which will help you notice poor patterns in logic. Read this article for more tips on best management practices and employee engagement. You are on your way to mindful leadership.


About the author:

Megan Evans is a digital marketer for Tanner Labs, a software research & development think tank. Her services have helped startups, e-commerce sites, franchises, Fortune 500 companies and local shops with their online visibility. Connect with Megan on LinkedIn.