LaRae Quy is the founder and CEO of the Mental Toughness Center and the producer of Secrets of a Strong Mind, an online training program.

I remember my dad scolding me for climbing into a corral full of horses. He warned me, “You could get kicked. Use your brains!” Despite knowing the danger, I still step into corrals to pet horses. This behavior highlights a common phenomenon: Intelligent people can do unwise things.

We all know smart people who do questionable things in business and in life. At work, people with brilliant minds can make the most simple mistakes. Colleagues might have high IQs but struggle with what you consider common sense.

Intelligent people can notice patterns and solve analytical problems. However, one study found that intelligence does not predict well-being. The study also said that standard intelligence tests fail to capture our real-world decision-making or our ability to “think about social relations.”

As a counterintelligence and espionage FBI agent, I couldn’t risk doing stupid things. While I devised a strategy for every arrest and interview, I never operated in isolation. People don’t know what they don’t know, and since lives and reputations were at stake in my investigations, I always invited other agents to scrutinize my decisions to eliminate errors.

In the business world, leaders are used to calling the shots, but as they grow their company and add talented people to their teams, there will be times when they need to acknowledge that others have more knowledge and experience. The market is always changing, and what might have been a brilliant decision in the past could be an imprudent one now.

Let’s take a closer look at why smart leaders might do foolish things:

1. Lack Of Critical Thinking

Intelligence and critical thinking are not the same thing. Intelligence is the ability to accumulate and retain information as knowledge so we can adapt to our environment. Critical thinking involves interpreting, evaluating and analyzing facts and information.

A study found that critical thinking “is a better predictor of life decisions than intelligence.” There was evidence to suggest that since critical thinking can be taught, people with this ability might experience fewer negative life events.

Critical thinking enables leaders to analyze complex problems, evaluate different options and sort through information to make more informed decisions. It helps leaders weigh pros and cons, consider potential consequences and make sound judgments.

How Leaders Can Improve Critical Thinking

• Look for unstated assumptions underlying your arguments or business decisions. Ask, “What am I taking for granted?” and, “How do I know that’s true?” Actively seek thinkers, books or ideas that contradict your beliefs.

• Diversify your thought patterns, and consider alternative options. Assemble diverse teams and brainstorm multiple possible causes or interpretations of data. Keep in mind that different is not always comfortable. There are many uncomfortable options out there that are incredibly useful.

• Reason through logic. As a leader, consider the logical consequences of different options or decisions for your business. Leave your ego at home, and encourage team members to play devil’s advocate and point out flaws in your reasoning.

• Present ideas and opinions logically. When presenting a proposal or idea, break it down into parts: premises, conclusions and logical connections between them. Be certain the logic is sound and the conclusions follow from the premises.

2. Confirmation Bias

As Verywell Mind explained, we can’t pay attention to every possible detail when forming thoughts and opinions, so people often use mental shortcuts to make judgments more quickly. This can lead to bias, such as confirmation bias. With this bias, we selectively seek and interpret information to confirm our preconceptions and ignore contradictory evidence.

Confirmation bias can cause us to not perceive circumstances objectively because we cherry-pick bits of data that confirm our prejudices. At work, this might cause leaders to ignore evidence contradicting their belief in business success.

How Leaders Can Overcome Confirmation Bias

• Question the source of your opinion, and be open to hearing others’ opinions. Maintain an “open door” policy so team members can share their opinions and ideas.

• Research opposing views, and ensure you read full articles, not just the headlines. For example, as the keynote for a human rights organization’s luncheon, I knew that as an FBI agent, I would likely be asked about federal laws they felt were unfair and oppressive. I spent the night before researching the organization’s biggest grievances with the FBI, so I understood their viewpoint and was prepared for the discussion.

3. Overconfidence

One of the first rules I learned as an FBI agent is that overconfidence can lead to failure because you see yourself as more capable, knowledgeable and competent than others. If someone is overconfident in their abilities, they might dismiss contradictory evidence and underestimate their susceptibility to errors.

Research found that people with “higher cognitive ability” were associated with larger bias blind spots in their thinking. Furthermore, a study on confidence and judgment found a small correlation between confidence and accuracy.

How Leaders Can Combat Overconfidence

• Make learning a habit. Dedicate time each day or week specifically for learning new activities, even if it’s just 15 to 30 minutes. Create a petri dish of new experiences in which you don’t know all the answers.

• Get a personal board of advisors of people whose opinions you value. Identify coaches or mentors in your field and experts in other areas to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Remember that if you are the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

• Stay away from quick and impulsive decisions. They could produce an overconfident error of judgment.

In conclusion, while intelligence provides many advantages, it does not always protect leaders from making bad decisions. Critical thinking, awareness of biases and humility are crucial for making better choices. By improving these skills, smart leaders can avoid the pitfalls of doing foolish things.

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