By Dinte
Feb. 5, 2015

Last Sunday, Pete Carroll made the biggest mistake of his life, one he is sure to never forget. Down by 4 with 26 seconds left, 36 inches stood between them and yet another Victory Parade in Seattle. With the League’s most powerful running-back in the backfield and 3 golden chances to gain a measly yard, the Seahawks had all but clinched their 2nd consecutive Lombardi Trophy. But it was not meant to be. Against all conventional wisdom, Carroll called a pass play from the 1-yard line and the rest is history. Game over. Pats Win.

To his credit after the game, Carroll took full responsibility for what many are calling “the worst call in NFL history” by stating, “there’s really nobody to blame but me, and I told (the players) that. We were on the precipice of winning another championship, and unfortunately the play goes the other way.”

For every fan, commentator, and analyst tearing Carroll apart for the call, you can find someone on the opposite side of the field applauding his display of true leadership by not only taking responsibility for his actions but also having the courage to call such a risky play.  

In business as well as sport, someone’s ability to take risks is widely viewed as a positive trait. We celebrate leaders who roll the dice and stand up for what they believe in, no matter how unpopular the decision may be. It’s a trait many of us would like to think we possess. However, as leaders we must be careful when taking risks and encouraging others to do the same. It is critical we recognize the difference between taking risks and making poor decisions.

But how do you differentiate between a poor original decision and a calculated risk that didn’t work out in your favor? Knowing the answer to this critical question is the key to creating accountability within an organization and is the main topic in a book titled Think Again: Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions.

In the book, authors Sydney Finkelstein, Andrew Campbell, and Jo Whitehead, uncover the following 4 reasons why leaders make poor decisions:

  1. Misleading Experiences. This occurs when leaders rely too heavily on past experience to guide their future decision making.
  2. Misleading Pre-Judgments. When leaders link prior decisions that are irrelevant to the current situation, it can cause them to misjudge the information they are receiving. 
  3. Inappropriate Self-Interest. This might be the hardest to catch because we tend to block the effects of self-interest from our conscious mind.
  4. Inappropriate Attachments. Personal connections to peers and teammates as well as work and accomplishments we have an emotional investment in can cloud our decision making process.

So how can leaders avoid these interceptions and defend themselves against their personal biases? The authors offer 4 key pieces of advice.

  1. Provide decision makers with new experience or data and analysis to reduce the risk of failure at the source.
  2. Introduce processes that defy deep-rooted views and conventional ways of thinking.
  3. Establish a governance team designed to guard against any flawed decisions.
  4. Establish an ongoing monitoring process to measure success and report failures at each stage of the decision-making process.

Of course, there is nothing you can do to make yourself immune from bad decision making. However, by following this advice, you will be sure to minimize the risk of falling victim to your own previous experience and bias.

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