Tag Archives: perception

Pitfalls of Leadership: The Affect Heuristic

Notwithstanding the fact that you’re grandma thinks that you are such a nice boy and your Mom thinks you are handsome – we have already established that you are a biased leader. In my last post, we discussed the availability heuristic as it impacts your ability to lead impartially. Today, I’d like to touch on how mood impacts leadership.


When giving a seminars on leadership bias, I often ask participants to write down the word, that if it were spelled phonetically, would be “dahy”. Go on, write it down and don’t overthink it. It turns out the way you spelled the word has a lot to do with the kind of day you are having. Those that spelled the word as “die” may need a hug, while those that spelled the word “dye” are probably doing alright. The reason this is the case is that our mood has a great deal to do with how we retrieve memories and consequently, how we lead.


One of the reasons psychologists can charge $200/hr to ask, “How does that make you feel?” is that we have gotten great at putting fancypants labels on things that would otherwise be very intuitive. Take for instance the tongue-twisting affect heuristic, which is simply a reference to our tendency to perceive the world through the lens of whatever mood we are in.

Ask someone having a bad day (those that wrote “die”, I’m looking at you) about their childhood and they are likely to tell you how they were chubby, had pimples, and never got picked first at kickball. Conversely, ask someone having a good day about their childhood and they are likely to recall summers in Nantucket and triple dips from the Tastee Freeze. Memory and perception are moving targets colored by our mood, NOT infallible retrieval and evaluation machines through which you make unbiased decisions.


So what is the moral of all of this psychobabble for the average leader? Think back on the last time that you went shopping when you were hungry. Once you’ve brought that to mind, think back on the contents of your shopping cart. If you’re like me, you probably had a whole mess of HoHos, Ding Dongs, Nutty Buddies, and Diet Coke (you don’t wanna get fat, after all), but nothing very healthy or substantive.

The same rules apply to making decisions that impact your business and the people that make comprise it; if you try to make decisions about the riskiness or viability of a given choice when you are happy/sad/angry/in love/anxious/ worried/euphoric, you are likely to end up with a junk food organization. So, the next time you are about to call a subordinate into your office in a fit of rage, take a step back, breath deeply, and come back down to Earth. After all, shopping while you’re hungry can make you sick.

Source: http://incblot.org/uncategorized/affect-heuristic/


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