What are some smoking guns? Where does our sniff test take us? Here are three red flags that are cited by Andrew Campbell, Jo Whitehead, and Sidney Finkelstein in their piece entitled Why Good Leaders Make Bad Decisions in a 2009 issue of the Harvard Business Review. The occasion? Here are some common lapses in the calculations of misinformation providers:
- Inappropriate self-interest — The limits of our own personal experience prevent us from seeing how our actions impact others and their interpretations for what we do. Self-preservation erodes our ability to see our own biases, even when we petition on behalf of others. It is not by accident but design that in most high level negotiations we hire brokers to do our bidding. But when personal loyalties blind us to impartial observation we lose the confidence of our professional peers – especially those group leaders who see that the “greater good” should prevail above the privileged concerns of the well-connected.
- Distorting attachments – Personalizing adversity is an honest, authentic, and entirely human response to our own vulnerability. It is also nearly always unprofessional. Whenever we experience an emotionally-charged event we are prone to raising the specter of that same threat in the future. Holding on to past grievances can often lead to future blunders. Instead of looking at the big picture or taking the long view our search target fixates on some slight or wound inflicted from a feuding enemy.
- Misleading memories — It’s a standard assumption that someone with a track record of success is a better risk to build on that success than someone with less experience or a mixed record. The red flag rationale argues that success can breed overconfidence. If prior decisions turned out well our target is blinded to key differences as conditions change and new conflicts arise. If the rewards of past smear campaigns eclipse the downsides those approaches are likelier to repeat – if not the successes.