“What would happen if this decision
went public?” — is another good
double-check. Leaders must also
balance between urgent problem-solving and the longer-term impacts
of today’s choices.
2. Miscalculating Risk. Membership
organizations need to tolerate a
degree of ambiguity. However, the
illusion of control creates its own
ethical hazard. Taking the time to
vet scenarios, even those that seem
unlikely, can help.
Psychologists have identified one
syndrome of unrealistic expectations as “hindsight bias.” This is
the tendency to believe a surprising
outcome was anticipated when it
wasn’t. In this way, people protect
themselves from confronting errors
in judgment. For example, when
recruiting a new board member,
leaders may sense trouble long
before anything actually occurs.
Then, should an issue blow up, they
may believe they cautioned their
team during the vetting process,
when, in fact, they kept their concern to themselves in a rush to get
the job done.
Another psychological bias is at
work when an issue is framed as an
opportunity to either avoid a loss or
gain an advantage. People are more
likely to take risks when considering an opportunity to avoid losses,
like reducing staff, and are more
risk-averse with decisions about
potential gains, like securing a new
funder outside the normal bounds
of the association’s field. Taking the
time to objectively frame the issue
can ensure clarity and candor when
debating the team’s options.
3. Misjudging Causes.
When leaders debrief a disappointing situation, they first have to
manage their inclination to assign
blame. Personalizing complex issues
cloud the bigger picture of cause
and effect. Rather, embracing the
systems view can boost a more realistic platform from which leaders
can better understand their realities
and their lessons learned. For example, boards may short change their
strategic responsibilities, tending to
overly rely on their executive directors for leadership in every function.
Examining all the players’ roles and
their obstacles can help maintain a
clear view of reality.
Faulty Reasoning About Others:
Ethnocentric thinking and stereotyping
are well known adversaries to objective
problem-solving. To allay the tendency
to think “us” and “them,” address how
“we” would respond given a particular
decision point. Membership organizations must use extra caution not to create an “us/them” mentality, easy to do
should member feedback be disheartening. Assuming that people are basically the same is a much safer place
to start. Clear decision-making criteria
and processes will help bolster leadership teams against unfair judgments
based on group identity. One way to
protect against personal bias is to put
strong policies in place that are explicit
commitments to fairness and individual
Faulty Reasoning About the
1. Limiting the Chain of Consequences.
Under pressure to decide, leaders
may cut short consideration of all
the potential consequences related
to their options. Thinking broadly
across the full set of an outcome’s
effects takes patience and diligence,
which pays off in reduced exposure
to unwanted consequences.
Careful stakeholder analysis
is one way to ensure a complete
view. The “red face test” — asking,
Faulty Reasoning About Ourselves
1. Imagining superiority, control and
advantage. Leaders with strong track
records are confident for good reason. Believing that past successes
naturally lead to positive advantage
is trouble. Risk assessment requires
a measured view of potential hazards as well as gains. Believing that
a strong track record somehow alleviates uncertainty can derail good
judgment. Leaders who are open to
feedback and take responsibility for
the good and bad outcomes have a
much better chance at a realistic
assessment of a current challenge.
2. Inflating a perception of fairness.
Leaders tend to be goal-focused,
with a good understanding of what
achievement will bring to the association. Leaders work hard and can
readily speak to all their efforts that
forward the association’s success.
A faulty sense of entitlement can
ensue, biasing the leaders’ sense
of fairness. A willingness to solicit
feedback, particularly from third-party partners or advisers, can guard
against this tendency.
Ensuring Ethical Decision Making
A better understanding of the human
hazards of faulty reasoning is the first