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Navigating Self-Serving Bias: A Guide to Self-Reflection Using the HERO SKills©


Self-serving bias is a psychological mirror that reflects our successes brightly and dims the view of our failures, attributing them to shadows beyond our control. This bias is our mind's way of preserving our self-esteem, allowing us to credit personal virtues for our victories while assigning external circumstances the blame for our defeats. Understanding and counteracting this bias is not merely a journey towards personal enlightenment; it's a critical step in fostering environments characterized by humility, empathy, reflection, and open-mindedness. These four pillars, known as the HERO Skills© humility, empathy, reflection, and open-mindedness, are essential for leaders and teams striving to thrive in the complex, diverse, and ever-evolving landscape of the 21st century.


The Psychology of Self-Serving Bias

At the heart of self-serving bias lies our innate desire to see ourselves in a positive light. Neuroscientifically speaking, this bias is linked to our brain's reward system. Success triggers a release of dopamine, reinforcing our self-belief and motivation. When we face failure, our brain engages in mental gymnastics to avoid the discomfort of acknowledging our flaws, preserving our mental well-being through cognitive dissonance.


Social psychology sheds light on how this bias manifests across various life aspects. For instance, in academia, a good grade may be internalized as a result of one's intellect and hard work, whereas a poor grade might be externalized as an unfair assessment. In professional settings, a successful project may be seen as a testament to one's leadership, while a project's failure might be blamed on market volatility or team dynamics.


Embracing HERO Skills© to Combat Self-Serving Bias

The HERO Skills©—Humility, Empathy, Reflection, and Open-mindedness—provide a robust framework for addressing self-serving bias, paving the way for inclusive leadership and cohesive team dynamics.


  1. Humility: This skill involves acknowledging our fallibility and the collective effort behind our achievements. It's recognizing that success is often a blend of personal effort, the contributions of others, and favorable circumstances. A leader embracing humility might say, "This achievement was possible due to our combined efforts and some fortunate timing."

  2. Empathy: Empathy enables us to see and feel the world from another's perspective, recognizing that the same external factors we blame for our failures also affect others. It fosters a culture of support and understanding, where setbacks are shared and addressed as a team rather than being pinned on individuals.

  3. Reflection: Reflective practice is the art of introspection, examining our own roles in successes and failures. It's asking ourselves how our actions or inactions contributed to the outcome and how we might influence such factors in the future. This inward gaze helps identify self-serving biases and recalibrate our perceptions for more balanced viewpoints.

  4. Open-mindedness: Open-mindedness invites us to consider diverse perspectives and feedback, even when they challenge our self-perception. It's about being receptive to learning from every situation, seeking out advice, and valuing feedback as a tool for growth and improvement.


Putting HERO Skills© into Practice

Imagine a scenario where a project under a leader's guidance fails to meet its objectives. A leader prone to self-serving bias might default to blaming external factors. However, with the HERO Skills© at play, the approach transforms:


  • Humility prompts the leader to own up to their share of the project's pitfalls, perhaps recognizing missed opportunities for guidance or support.

  • Empathy encourages understanding the team's challenges and external pressures, fostering a supportive and non-judgmental environment.

  • By engaging in reflection, the leader critically evaluates the decision-making process, acknowledging both their contributions and the external influences on the project's outcome.

  • Open-mindedness leads the leader to actively seek and value the team's feedback, exploring diverse viewpoints to enhance future project management and collaboration.


The Way Forward

Self-serving bias is an inherent aspect of our psychological makeup, but it's not an unchangeable fact of our nature. Through the deliberate cultivation of HERO Skills©, we can mitigate this bias, enhancing relational ties, and fostering environments where mutual respect, understanding, and trust flourish. This journey towards self-awareness and self-improvement is ongoing, demanding continuous self-examination, openness to feedback, and a commitment to personal and communal development. In embracing humility, empathy, reflection, and open-mindedness, we not only counteract self-serving bias but also lay the groundwork for a culture that values diversity, embraces change, and seizes opportunity with both hands.

If you are considering a speaker or workshop that covers unconscious bias, the HERO Skills and/or other development topic , please contact Dr. Steve L. Robbins at 616-818-6485 or

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