Does Unconscious Behaviour Impair Your Leadership?

Unconscious bias can affect lead to group-think

Does Unconscious Behaviour Impair Your Leadership?

And if so, what can you do to fix it?

As a leader, do your team tend to agree with your ideas and rarely challenge you? Some may enjoy the harmonious atmosphere and interpret this as a positive affirmation of their excellent recruitment strategy and effective leadership. Others recognise the importance of diverse thinking and candid discussion; consequently, they seek to create a psychologically safe culture that facilities open debate and honest feedback. But what if their unconscious behaviour gets in the way?

The Causes

Many behavioural traits associated with different leadership styles can unwittingly cause us to self-sabotage our intent when fostering a team environment that encourages people to speak freely. We all have our flaws; here are some of the common ones that may resonate with you or you recognise in others:-

Winners – ego forces them to win every argument to demonstrate their knowledge or intellect at every opportunity. They also tend to take ownership of every idea/project.

Authoritarians –  lack of empathy and rapport means subordinates do not feel motivated to share their thoughts and feedback. The leader’s suggestions are interpreted as orders.

Perfectionists  – want a fully baked solution, not fresh unformed ideas.

Pace-setters – multi-taskers who struggle to be fully present; their behaviour gives the impression they don’t have time to listen to ideas or feedback.

Judges – reject or criticise ideas and feedback with language that starts with “no” or “yes but”. They may lack curiosity and genuine interest or belief in their team.

Narcissists – leaders who want to be liked tend to employ like-minded people and are susceptible to unconscious bias towards those that reinforce their perspectives.

People Pleasers – fear conflict and suppress debate because they want everyone to get along.

The Solutions

Thankfully there are ways in which you can combat these unconscious habits once you become aware of them. Executive coach Dina Denham Smith recently shared her advice on the subject in an article in the Harvard Business Review entitled, “How Leaders Can Escape Their Echo Chambers”*. Her six tips are:

  1. Consistently solicit ideas and feedback
  2. Demonstrate curiosity and listen
  3. Practice “Yes and”
  4. Speak last
  5. Seek different perspectives
  6. Walk the talk

*Dina Denham Smith, Harvard Business Review

The Challenge

The challenge is being able to observe your behaviour and then be able to hold yourself accountable for changing it. Monitoring your behaviour objectively is hard at the best of times, let alone when you’re a busy CEO. Of course, you could rely on your peers to help you, but therein lies the catch-22, asking your peers to help you change the behaviours that get in the way of your peers helping you! This is where an executive coach can really make a difference. An independent, non-judgemental advisor with the expertise and mandate to help you identify the unconscious habits that are holding you back. They can help you analyse what’s triggering the behaviour, design the solution and hold you accountable as you fix it.

The Outcomes

Well, for a start, you’ll be able to harness the collective intelligence of your whole team, leading to better decisions, more creativity and enhanced problem-solving.

Secondly, your team will feel more engaged, motivated and valued.

You and your colleagues will benefit from candid and honest feedback enabling the leadership team to grow collectively and individually.

Your team’s confidence, cohesion and contentment will increase leading to improved performance.


If you’d like to discuss how executive coaching can help you change your behaviour to improve performance, please get in touch with me via LinkedIn or email



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