Trust (Part 4) Not The Obvious Choice

Sometimes, a person being promoted is said to be the “obvious choice”. That’s convincing. If it’s obvious, why look anywhere else?

The Obvious Choice

It may be that the person deemed the “obvious choice” is, in fact, the best person for the job. It’s also possible that they are not.

Due to the fundamental attribution principle and confirmation bias, what we perceive as obvious may be terribly wrong, or at least not comprehensive. However, that’s not the worst part.

A Passive Stance

As leaders, we should be actively seeking ways to grow, challenge, and develop our team members. The mindset of looking for the “obvious choice” means that those activities may not be important. Minimally, it means these are not the leaders’ responsibility.

When, as a leader, we decide to look for the obvious choice, we ignore our leadership responsibility to create opportunities to grow people. We adopt a passive stance and wait for others create opportunities to grow ”on their own”.

With this mindset, we leaders tell ourselves that we are not the ones doing the selection. We think we’re waiting.

By waiting until someone pushes themselves (nearly) into a new role “on their own”, we avoid the risk of putting a person in a position in which they may fail and we take all the accolades for growing team. It’s leadership cowardice at best, but it’s actually much worse.

Making “My Own” Opportunities

Because our perspective is that we’re allowing each person to make their own opportunities, our brain will reinforce us with biased confirmations of our objectivity.

Consider the case of two people vying for the same position. Let’s say each is taking on some new responsibilities while allowing some of their daily duties to be taken on by other teammates.

For the one we prefer, we’ll see how that person is putting themselves out there and becoming the “obvious choice”.

The other, we’ll see as slacking on their responsibilities and this proves they’re not ready for the role. Thus, this person is not the obvious choice.

Both people take the same steps but we see one as positive and the other as negative. Even under scrutiny our brain will serve up reason after reason to justify what we already think.

Why? Confirmation bias. We know who we want to pick, so our brain begins finding any information or perspectives that support our conclusion and serves it to us. It purposefully ignores or justifies away any conflicting insights.

Insurmountable Barriers

Let’s look at the cycle that confront team members whose leaders have low expectations:

  1. Because of low expectations, they aren’t offered opportunities to grow
  2. Without these opportunities they cannot demonstrate high performance
  3. They perform to those low expectations
  4. Rinse & repeat

When leaders are in a passive stance, this cycle can be nearly impossible to escape. Those for which the leaders have high expectations take on fantastic projects and excel. Those for whom the leader has low expectations languish and eventually leave.

Who are we leading?

As a leader, it is not our job to support the high performers and let the others fend for themselves. If we’re in a passive stance, this is exactly what we do.

Even if we get confronted by “low performing” team members about projects they wanted to work on but weren’t given a chance, our brain will remind us that when it came in, the high performers jumped all over it so it’s just a matter of taking initiative and the reason the team member is still a low performer is their fault for not showing more drive.

Our brain isn’t going to show us that when we learned about the opportunity, we were with our high performers and they volunteered to get it done on the spot. We applauded their initiative and gave it to them. Thus, not only did we fail to recognize this chance to grow our “low performers”, we actively (albeit unintentionally) made sure they wouldn’t even know this project existed let alone have a chance to contribute.

Our brain will keep showing us (1) our actions are wise, just look at our results and (2) we’re not keeping anyone down, our high performers are just doing a fantastic job. Sadly, as long as we’re in a passive stance we’ll never know how our “low performers” would have done because we never let them try.


Worst of all, is that the difference between high and low performer is relative. A low performer in this discussion isn’t necessarily someone whose job is at risk and delivers poor results. It’s merely someone for whom we expect less than someone else. As long as there is that gap and we’re in a passive stance, our (in)actions will widen the gap and force the low performers to lower and the high performers higher.


As a leader, are you waiting for the “obvious choice” or are you actively creating opportunities for everyone to grow?

When was the last time you allowed yourself to be surprised by a team member by giving them a project you didn’t think they’d be able to succeed with?


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