Leadership Blind Spots: Uncovering Your Greatest Leadership Challenge
You’ve probably heard of the term “blind spot”. We use it in traffic to refer to a blind spot in your car that you simply can’t see behind you. Humans have blind spots in their lives and businesses as well, and these blind spots cause all sorts of trouble. We’ve all had those days where we wish we could take a step back and look at our business from a higher perspective. It would have been great to know what was coming… but alas, hindsight is 20/20.
Driving Blind Spots
A driver’s blind spot is the area where a driver cannot see when he turns his head to look. It may be the area which is not seen by the mirrors or which was simply forgotten about while driving. Accidents occur when another vehicle occupies the blind spot and there is no way of seeing that car.
Many drivers like to pretend there isn’t a problem in their blind spot or ignore it completely. This means they are knowingly operating their vehicle without using their mirrors or checking traffic alerts to take into account what is happening outside of their field of vision. What constitutes a blind spot? In the simplest terms, a car’s mirror simply cannot reflect all that is going on.
A driver sometimes cannot see slower moving objects with which they could come into contact if they changed lanes for example. Even if the driver sees a motorcycle approaching, that doesn’t mean they will have enough time to respond accordingly and that’s when an accident can happen.
Anatomical Blind Spots
In anatomy, the blind spot is the region of the retina where the optic nerve and blood vessels pass through to connect to the back of the eye. Since there are no light receptors there, a part of the field of vision is not perceived by an individual. Because a portion of your vision will lack details of things from your surroundings, the brain will then fill in this gap by taking data from both eyes since both eyes’ views are slightly different and have slightly different physical blind spots.
Leadership Blind Spots
Humans have blind spots no matter the position they hold in their company. Even executives can have blind spots and these can be some of the most problematic to deal with as an executive or manager as you won’t even realize what you aren’t seeing! When someone is leading a team and they are not aware of their own behaviors, what often happens is they blame other members for the very problems they are creating for themselves. Once everyone takes an assessment such as the Maxwell DISC Personality Indicator however, it reveals areas in which each person could improve as well as altering how their peers see them too.
As humans, we may suffer from numerous weaknesses at any given point in time and in some cases it may affect how we run our lives. As a business leader you can also suffer from many blind spots while you are busy running your business and so we could say the same about your employees. Leadership is vital when running a successful business so it becomes important to recognize your own faults and the faults of those who work for you, which is why assessments and in particular leadership assessments can help you do just that.
Teamwork Blind Spots
Let’s say one person on the team, we’ll call him “Bob”, caused a great deal of conflict on the team because he had his own way of doing things and couldn’t accept or see alternate opinions on how to solve a problem. He never took the time to listen and respect other ways in which they could work together. By forcing his style on others instead of working together as a team, team members became frustrated, miserable and disengaged. He caused contention on the team and the others did not want to work with him because of it. By going through some exercises to help clarify everyone’s expectations for one another, we can provide the power of hearing and validating everyone’s ideas on the team and act on them accordingly.
If he is willing, Bob could come around and start working with others after he realized there are other people with good ideas, opinions and approaches that might be the exact strategy needed to overcome the situation at hand. By working through it and acknowledging each other’s contributions, the team member’s relationships can develop, leading to mutual trust and ultimately coming up with better solutions.
Let’s take this idea away from the workplace. When it comes to music, an orchestra is a collaborative group effort and can tip the scales when there are too many self-centered players on stage that refuse to follow along with the conductor. Everyone has their own “beat” so to speak but sometimes one person may either play slightly out of tempo or hold a strong individual opinion about what song they are performing, leading others to follow them.
The joy of having a group of people who can “play different instruments” is that you bring together many different people with varying skills and talents. They may not all be experienced drummers but they don’t have to be. It’s a team effort. Music will sound magical when everyone plays their “instrument” in perfect proportion to one another. What happens when there’s no direction from the conductor? A beautiful orchestra turns into a cacophony of lamentable music.
So how do we fix this problem? Depending on the situation, sometimes our best strategy as leaders is working directly with that specific person because we know they’re capable of playing better when they have the skillset needed. Other times certain people are just holding us back and need to be removed from their position. When people are blind to their ignorance and won’t put any time or effort into correcting themselves, no matter how many times they’re corrected — sometimes you have very little choice but to simply remove them from your team completely if they refuse to accept they have anything to improve. In any case, communication and teamwork are vital in keeping things cohesive as possible.
So how do you know where your blind spots are? Obviously, you’re not aware of them, that’s why they we call them “blind spots”. But once you become aware of them, that’s the first step toward managing them. Of course, some blind spots are situational: You may be comfortable with a certain situation and oblivious to its downsides relative to other situations.
Consider a situation in which you were blind-sided by something unexpected, or did not get the outcomes you planned. Now reflect upon the situation and try to remember what went through your mind prior to the event. Consider this moment when things took an unexpected turn. Next, jot down specifics surrounding that particular time; it will help build a picture of what kind of situations prompt a stronger reaction from you and others to therefore provide room for improvement. Here’s one way to understand your blind spots more. On a piece of paper that represents each day of the week, write down specific events in sequential order for the upcoming week. Then at the end of each day for week write out the answer to these three questions for each event:
- Where were you?
- Who was the person or group with whom you interacted?
- What happened?
Common Blind Spots
Once you have a handle on what your personal blind spots are, it’s easy to see how they affect you. And now that you’ve found what your obstacles are, put together a plan of action for solving the issues causing these problems. The following is a list of typical blind spots (you’ll probably want to add others from your own experience.) As you think about each item, ask yourself, “How does this cause me grief?” “How does this get in my way or slow me down?”
- Not listening to another person’s complete statement and instead thinking about your own response and/or jumping to conclusions about what they were going to say.
- Looking at a situation and immediately judging it as “right” or “wrong” before getting all the facts. Pre-judgments also known as prejudice or bias (and we all have biases) create an automatic blind spot.
- Impatience with people who like to talk or talk too much.
- Frustration with people who are less conscientious, systematic, conservative and task-oriented than you.
- Tolerations, which are the little things that cause momentary irritation you mean to “fix”. For example, a broken chair, messy desk, chronically losing keys, etc.
- Rushing those who have a more patient approach.
- Looking at your own needs and not asking others about theirs.
- Quick to labeling situations or people.
- Putting up walls against feedback (especially “negative” feedback)
The Solution to Blind Spots
It’s hard to recognize your own blind spots. When we face a problem, just thinking back over the situation that brought on the problem isn’t likely to help you locate your blind spot. You can also try brainstorming with other people or coaching to uncover your blind spot. Understanding yourself is more likely to help you figure out when and how you make mistakes under pressure.
Start by asking these questions:
- What is my behavior style and how do I handle problems, people, pace, and procedures?
- How does my behavior style work or not work with my teams styles?
- What are my values and how am I motivated?
- What comments and feedback do I hear from others? What do I do with it?
- What feedback am I ignoring?
It’s human nature to have blind spots. We just don’t know what we don’t know. If you want to recognize your blind spots, you have to take the time to look for them and how they might affect you and those around you.
This is a serious problem, to be sure, but there are a few ways to deal with this. Try to minimize the inevitable blind spots that come with being human. For instance, you might try to get a second opinion on big decisions (or at least think about getting one). You might try to get a little perspective by talking to trusted friends and colleagues. You might try to learn to recognize some of the common problems that come from our blind spots.
You can also try to solve some of the blind spots in your organization. For instance, you might try to have channels for employees to express concerns anonymously, and you might try to fight any potential organizational biases. In my work as a coach, I’ve found that most executives benefit from at least trying to mitigate the human factor of blind spots, both personal and organizational, in their business. The increase in the trust that develops from the authenticity and transparency of simply acknowledging them can be enormous.
Ready to take on your blind spots? Learn more about how to develop your leadership skills with the Effective Leadership email newsletter.
Or contact me today for a complementary Strategy Session: Leadership Strategy Session