When Leaders Wear Rose-Colored Business Glasses

We all wear rose-colored glasses. It’s part of our innate mindware programming. Whether we’re looking at ourselves or our business, our unconscious mind is designed to filter the information from our environment that presents our best feeling reality.

Which is why we often don’t see what’s coming. Until it’s too late.

Neuroscience has proven that when we are presented with information or insights that threaten our feeling good about ourselves or our situation, we bring out the rose-colored glasses. Our unconscious mindware proceeds to distort our reality, changing what we see and even fill in the blanks with evidence designed to reduce the threat and make us feel good.

We’ve all seen this process in action.

  • Look at cheating politicians, or the Wall Street, Enron and other corporate debacles. Instead of facing the reality of the situation, they touch ever-so-lightly on reality, then shift the facts to cast a rosier light that masks the truth.
  • We’ve all been in organizations that were flailing. Yet somehow instead of seeing the reality of the problems, folks managed to see only what they wanted to see.

Welcome to the powerful, but not-so-positive side of our minds.

It’s Not Just Ego

I used to think these incidents were ego-gone-rampant.  The research proved that opinion.

  • In a survey of physicians – 88% were confident in their diagnosis of pneumonia in patients. In reality, those diagnoses were accurate less than 20% of the time.
  • In a survey of college professors, 94% said they did above average work. Hmmm.
  • In a survey of corporate CEO’s, a whopping 92% said they were the only person who could do their job effectively. By the way, more than 50% of those corporations were losing money.
  • In an M&A involving a flailing target, the average firms pays 40+% more for the target acquisition than the current stock price. Why? Because the acquiring execs believe that they can run the acquisition more profitably.

But then as I learned more about the inner workings of our minds, I also learned I was just plain wrong about that ego thing. Overconfidence is not necessarily about our ego. It’s about our minds. We all are wired to be overconfident in the face of negativity. Our mindware programming causes our overconfident beliefs and behaviors, which means we can move beyond it!

Our Confidence Programming

We’ve chatted before about the human program that drives us to prove ourselves right. That program is even stronger when it comes to protecting our beliefs about our businesses and ourselves in times of threat, or opportunity!

This instinctual response is aided by another one. In any situation, our unconscious mind is wired to fill in the details, details that make the situation more the way we want it to be. Even if those details are inaccurate. For example, when our self-image is threatened, our unconscious mind will fill in the data it needs to create the reality we want and need.

The challenge is this. If we’re filling in what we want to believe, and tinting reality to our favor – how do we have any hope of seeing what’s really happening around us?

Stepping Out of the Rose-Tinted World

There are a number of simple steps to help us step away from the rosy tints and into a clear view of our markets, our organizations and ourselves.

Here are three simple shifts to retrain and expand your mind, bringing deeper clarity.

1. Prove Yourself Wrong

When was the last time you actively went out to do research with the intent of proving yourself wrong? When I ask clients this question, 95% look shocked. After all, when are we ever taught to look for the evidence to disprove our theories? Our brains aren’t wired to do this either. Which is why it’s such a powerful shift.

For the next month, take any assumption or belief and go exploring. Look for evidence that says you’re wrong. Stretch your mind to see beyond information that agrees with you and find the information that says you are just plain inaccurate. This approach offers a few benefits:

  • When you find that evidence, you save yourself time and money invested in that assumption or belief.
  • You’ll see more information about the assumption and in most cases, you’ll find insights that guide you to tune your assumption or belief to be more accurate and powerful.
  • If you don’t find any contrary evidence, then you know you’re on to something strong!

Most importantly, you’ll retrain your mind to see a broader perspective, beyond the programming that guides you to be right, right, right.

2. Explore A 360 Degree Perspective

We’re designed to be learning machines. We learn from our experiences, our teachers, our peers, our friends and mentors. We learn and learn. But at some point, we begin to rely more on what we know from the past than the reality in front of us.

You can continue to learn and add to your experiences. We’ve now proven that our neural plasticity (the ability to learn) continues throughout our lives. Just because our mind is wired to focus on expectation doesn’t mean we have to let it do that.

How? Take a 360 degree view of every aspect of your business and assumptions. Whatever belief you hold dear, go explore it more deeply.

  • Examine it from a number of perspectives. Read articles that take a different slant, look for companies who have done things differently, seek out an expended perspective.
  • Talk to folks who have different experiences and expectations and listen, listen, listen.

The more diverse data you bring into your mind, the broader your perspectives can become. A broader perspective breeds better results.

3. Get Outside Your Comfort Zone

As humans, we’re wired to seek what is known and comfortable. Which means our group of comrades, favorite customers and even our offices become the place of safety and comfort. I suggest to clients that they get out of their own comfort zones and into the reality of the markets. How?

  • Instead of talking to your favorite customers, go talk to the customer who is angry, or who has already left your business for another option. They will tell you more about the reality of your market position than your favorite customers will. Why? Because they are not part of your group think! So often we diss the feedback of that pissy customer or prospect who was stupid to choose our competitor. That’s a disservice to our business. Instead, go talk to them and LISTEN to the feedback. It’s worth way more than the feedback that strokes your corporate ego.
  • Go chat with leaders of businesses that are not in your market. Get their perspectives, ask how they have addressed the challenges you face. Once again, they are not part of the imprinted belief system around your market and company – so they’ll help you with a fresh perspective. This is one reason I believe that CEO Peer Groups from a diversity of business arenas are so important to any CEO. We all need to step out of our expected box and access a broader (and less programmed) perspective.

The Bottom Line

Humans are wired to assume we’re right, that we will win, and we are on top of our game. That’s the powerful programming that drives us to start a new business, to change the way things are done. At least for that first step.

But once we’ve taken that first leap – we have to constantly act to avoid the downside of that programming, the side that gets us stuck in our own beliefs and chest thumping as our markets adapt and move on without us.

Use these three simple techniques to keep you and your team in sync with the reality of your markets. That’s the real key to market leadership and bottom line success.

By Rebel Brown