Thursday, July 19, 2012

Errors, Misjudgments and Dishonesty- Human Frailty

There are two big categories of errors and misjudgments that people make in organizations.  One category has to do with errors and misjudgments that are individually based.  The other category deals with errors of process or system.  Today I'll deal with individual errors and misjudgments.

One of the kinds of individual errors has to do with one of the  "unforgivable" errors...violations of company values(honesty, integrity, respect for people as an example), violations of company business principles(rules, standards, expected behaviors) or some types of health, safety and environmental policies.  As I said in my last blog,  a violation of any of these values, principles or policies, in any organization should be grounds for dismissal.  Given the seriousness of the consequences, it's important that leaders are explicit about the absolute nature of these values, principles and some policies.  They need to be reinforced with training at least annually and embedded in all formal leader development training.
Other kinds of errors and misjudgments are made by honest people of good intent...really a product of human frailty.  Daniel Kahneman's book "Thinking Fast and Slow" is probably the best single volume reference to the research of the last several decades into why we all make errors of judgment.  I'll not go into a summary of his work...just simply state that a lot of errors can be attributable to how our brains work. Cordelia Fine's A Mind of its Own, Kathryn Schultz' Being Wrong, and Jonah Lehrer's How We Decide all contribute to a deeper understanding of how highly capable people of good intent make serious error.

An important part of any leader's toolkit is  understanding mental models and mastering the skills of inquiry and advocacy to both challenge her own thinking as well as the thinking of others..  Reveal your own thinking by the use of some key phrases..."I came to this conclusion because...", "This is the experience that leads me to conclude..." and invite challenge  "Do my assumptions seem valid?"  "What's your reaction to what I'm saying?".  When inquiring,  key phrases might include "What causes you to conclude....?"..."The reason I'm asking the question is...."  "Help me understand, can you give me an example?"   Mastery of dialogue skills can help both the leader and others minimize those errors honest people of good intent can make.

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