Charles Good on Thinking Traps

Leadership involves making decisions under pressure in an ever-evolving business landscape. As a leader, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and swayed by the impulses of certain thought patterns that can lead to negative consequences for you and your business. Leaders need to identify these common thinking traps to better control them and make decisions confidently. We will explore common thinking traps that affect leaders and how recognizing them can help you make smarter decisions.


Magnifying the bad and minimizing the positive will lead to negative emotions and will destroy your enthusiasm for things you do in life. It will kill your mood and sap you of energy and effectiveness. People tend to think less clearly, flexibly, and effectively when angry or sad. Friends start distancing themselves from those who can’t control their negativity. Negative people are self-absorbed and lack the empathy required to maintain close relationships with others.

Do you magnify the bad and minimize the good? If so, you need to strive for balance. Ask yourself: Were there any good things that happened? Did I do anything well? If you tend to dismiss the negative, ask yourself: Am I overlooking any problems? Were there negative elements that I ignored the importance of?


Your mind takes shortcuts by sampling select scenes and details of the environment. However, you are not an equal opportunity sampler but instead focus on the negative aspects of the environment due to the biased way in which you sample the environment and draw incorrect conclusions. This type of trap is often directed toward negative outcomes since being broadsided by an unexpected boon doesn’t carry the same survival threat as unexpected adversity.

Review moments you are prone to tunnel vision and refocus yourself on the big picture. Ask yourself: What is a fair assessment of the entire situation? What is the big picture? How important is this one aspect of the big picture? These questions will broaden your perspective beyond the tunnel.

IMS educator Dr. John Austin also identifies several common thinking traps that affect leaders in his book Unquestioned Brilliance. A few of the more common pitfalls are the following:

  • We don’t know what we don’t know – leaders need to be constantly vigilant against the temptation to believe that their understanding goes beyond their expertise.
  • We forget what we used not to know – this is often called Monday morning quarterbacking about American football and refers to the tendency to criticize the actions of athletes playing in Sunday games.

To overcome some of these common traps, Dr. Austin recommends that you find routines and techniques that force us to go beyond the obvious and test your logic. A few of the methods he commonly uses are the following:

  • Blind Spot Centering – this technique has participants ask, ‘What if my assumptions are wrong?’
  • Uncertainty Vectoring asks, ‘What if the future plays out differently than what you are predicting?’
  • The Backward Forward Flip asks, ‘What if we’re making the same mistakes previous industry leaders made?’

As a leader, avoiding thinking traps is vital for making more informed decisions. You can improve your decision-making processes by identifying thinking traps, utilizing critical thinking techniques, asking the right questions, using data and metrics, and continually learning and assessing. These valuable skills will serve you, your team, and your company well in the long run.

Listen to my recent conversation with Dr. John Austin, where he goes more in-depth into common traps leaders make and ways to avoid them. You can explore other thinking traps in my article on productivity thinking traps that may be holding you back.


Charles Good is the president of The Institute for Management Studies, which provides transformational learning experiences that drive behavioral change and develop exceptional leaders. Charles is an innovative and resourceful leader who specializes in bringing people together to develop creative organizational and talent strategies that enable business results. His areas of expertise include assessing organizational skill gaps and leading the design, creation and delivery of high impact, innovative learning solutions that achieve business goals.

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