Bridgepoint in Fast Company: Blind Spots That Plague Even The Best Leaders

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There’s a mythology around great leaders. They’re visionary. They’re inspirational. They seem to know what their organizations and teams need intuitively.

But make no mistake: No one is perfect—and most leaders have blind spots, says Robert Bruce Shaw of Princeton Management Consulting Group in Princeton, New Jersey, and author of Leadership Blind Spots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter. During his years of work as a management consultant, he says he’s seen some surprising examples of leaders behaving in a way that derailed their careers or failed to address critical issues. “And you think, Why did this happen? And what I concluded is that it’s often because of blind spots,” he says.

Leaders need to be confident in their abilities, Shaw says, but have enough wisdom to know that they’re not going to see everything. And that’s not always a bad thing. Blind spots can help you maintain your confidence in the face of significant obstacles and make answers seem simpler than they actually are.

But when they inhibit you from seeing the truth or make you blind to important issues, they need to be addressed. Here are five common visionary weaknesses that can hurt you and your company, and how to manage them.


People in leadership positions often think that they’re more strategic than they really are, Shaw says. They may rise to their positions through commercial or operational roles and then find they’re responsible for thinking about markets, competition, and driving growth. The shift in thinking from solving operational challenges to thinking about the big-picture direction for the company is a sizeable one—and many leaders overestimate how well they’ve managed it. Before they know it, they’re lost in the weeds of operational problem solving without providing the strategic leadership necessary to drive the company forward.


Finding out that you made the wrong decision or hold a viewpoint that is incorrect is never pleasant. But some leaders hold fast to being right to the point where they don’t consider information that could make them better informed and more effective. Such a blind spot can not only lead to bad decision making, but also quash the team’s interest in contributing and challenging the status quo, Shaw says. Leaders who are defensive when challenged can actually shut down their teams’ interest in contributing and innovating.


Sometimes, leaders have blind spots when it comes to employees, coworkers, or team members, says business transition coach Posy Gering, founder of Seattle-based Next U, a business consultancy, and author of The Next You, Discovering Confidence, Calm and Courage–Now. These people may not be performing as expected or may not have the skills necessary to do the job, she says. But our blind spots—whether selective or well-intentioned—can prevent us from seeing the problem, especially if we want the individual to succeed, she says.

“It’s almost like we want a specific outcome, so the ends justify the means to overlook certain things,” she says. Leaders may jump in to try to fix the issues they encounter with the weaker team member, but that is problematic because it sends a message to the rest of the team that the weaker individual is receiving special accommodations. At the same time, it sends a message to the individual that the boss doesn’t think they can handle the project, and is stepping in to put it back on track. Neither message optimizes the team or the working environment.


Communication is another area where leaders tend to overestimate their ability, says Dean Miles, founder and president of Colorado Springs, Colorado-based Bridgepoint Coaching and Strategy Group. “There is a disconnect between what their leaders think has been connected, confirmed, clarified, and communicated, and what has really happened.”

So, while leaders think that they have communicated, for example, their top three priorities within a specific time period, they often think they have been clear about conveying them to their team members. But when Miles asks them, hypothetically, “‘Would you be willing to bet next month’s paycheck that I could go to your direct reports, and they could give me those same three [priorities], in the same order, with the same level of confidence?’ And they can’t,” he says.


Whether you’re assuming you know what matters to the people on the front lines or the shop floor of your organization, or you’re underestimating your competitors, failure to stay in touch with the realities around you can lead to several areas of blind spots, as Shaw writes in his book. When you think you know more than you do without confirmation, or make assumptions about what’s happening instead of getting the facts, you risk being blindsided.


It’s not always easy to figure out what your own blind spots are, Gering says. By nature, leaders are always supposed to have the answers, so even admitting you have them can feel unsettling.

But Shaw says that clues probably lie in your history. Look at where you’ve made your biggest mistakes or where you have recurring issues in your work. If you can spot patterns, you’ve probably got blind spot clues. For example, if you have a history of team members letting you down or underperforming, you may have an issue with being overly optimistic about the talents of people who work for you.

Another way to find your blind spots is to ask trusted colleagues who are vested in your success. You don’t want to become overly vulnerable or allow such evaluation to wreck your confidence. However, getting an outside view of areas you tend to overlook can be very useful, Shaw says. Formal tools such as 360-degree evaluations or regular, structured feedback can also be useful.

But awareness doesn’t always equal elimination, he adds. Just because you know where you tend to have blind spots doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve fixed them. Surround yourself with people who can help you manage your blind spots or weaknesses. If you don’t have strong people skills, recruit someone who can help you manage your interaction with team members. If you tend to get defensive when your views are challenged, find a colleague or mentor who can help you deal with those feelings and process the information presented to you. By beefing up your team with people who help you overcome your blind spots, you’ll be able to better compensate for them, Shaw says.


Bridgepoint in Forbes: For C-Suite Executives Struggling With The Blues, Here's Some Advice


Forbes Coaches Council

Top business and career coaches from Forbes Coaches Council offer firsthand insights on leadership development & careers.

It's not easy being the boss. In fact, some research shows that depression among CEOs could be double the national level of 20%. While it's no secret that the life of a CEO is a high-pressure job, many CEOs simply feel they have to "push through" the hard times. In the process of supporting others, they often isolate their own struggles.

We asked professional coaches of Forbes CoachesCouncil what their best advice was for C-suite executives struggling with feelings of burnout and depression. Here's what they said.

1. Slow Down And Face The Current State Of Being

What matters the most in these situations is to slow down and take the time to acknowledge the current situation. Many executives fight depression instead of embracing the opportunity to slow down and explore what might be the "rock in their shoe." Looking at depression as a way to reset and realize we have accomplished so much, often against what could give meaning in our life, is a major step.   - Belinda MJ Brown, Equanimity Executive, LLC 

2. Reconnect With Your Past Self

It’s easy to periodically “get the blues” during a C-suite career. It’s often lonely on top, and this may cause an internal disconnect with the person you “used to be," triggering situational depression. Ask an old boss, co-worker, employee, even a college buddy to coffee or dinner. Reconnecting with past, positive people may lift your mood and help you feel more connected with your past self.   - Michelle Riklan, Riklan Resources LLC 

3. Find A Peer Group

The C-suite can be a lonely place. One way to find solace is by joining a professionally facilitated peer group with executives in non-competitive industries. Find a group that either meets regularly in person or even one that networks primarily online with meetings occurring through video chats. Once you join, dedicate yourself; share honestly, and give genuine, constructive feedback to others.   - Sarah Beth Aubrey, A.C.T. Aubrey Coaching & Training

4. Retrace Your Steps

Take note of when your depression first began and what factors have contributed to it. Retracing your steps will help you to identify the things that are contributing to the depression, and then you can work on developing strategies to cope with and reduce it. I recommend consulting with a professional who can get you on the right track to reset and re-charge your inner happiness.   - Wendi Weiner, JD, NCRW, CPRW, CCTC, CCM, The Writing Guru 

5. Focus On What You Can Control

Examine internal (you) and external (environmental) drivers of the depression. Clarify what is within your circle of control and where you can make specific changes. For example, physiology is vital to our mental health. What can you change in your diet, sleep, exercise, hydration, meditation, peer group, etc. Make and measure concrete changes to both empower and change your state.   - Camille Preston, PhD, PCC, AIM Leadership, LLC 

6. Seek Help From A Professional

Does authority lend itself to depression? Extensive work hours, high pressure and mental strain can lead to depression. Yet, executives are the least apt to seek therapy. If therapy is rejected, reduce the risk by hiring an executive coach with a background in psychology. As a licensed clinician and executive coach, we are able to spot and triage concerns that have a psychological root quickly.   - Debora McLaughlin, The Renegade Leader Coaching & Consulting Group 

7. Change Your Perspective

Assuming it's not clinical depression but more of discontent, it is time to get real. You must muster up the courage to change your perspective. Do you really hate your job, or have you complained about it so much to others that you think you do? Remember, you are not your circumstances, these circumstances are real, but they are not you. Remember your future is fine and your present isn't final.   - Dean Miles, Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy Group

8. Explore The "Hard Truths"

A title is not an excuse to avoid the “hard truths” associated with depression. If clinical intervention is required, get help. If it is career related, determine what’s missing or is in standing your way. Push ego aside and communicate needs/concerns to those who can help. And it’s not a sign of weakness to look inward at what would fulfill you. Then, proactively take steps toward positive change.   - Kim Monaghan, KBM Coaching & Consulting LLC 

9. Be Honest, Intentional And Create New Habits

Nothing works if you are not honest with yourself. Know the symptoms of clinical depression. If this is you, get professional help ASAP. Not clinically depressed? Then implement a daily mindfulness practice — whether five minutes to focus on thankfulness, deep breathing exercises, or speaking positivity to self/others. Identify something physical and do it at least three times a week (even if it is a walk). Be intentional to create new habits.   - Michelle Braden, MSBCoach, LLC 

10. Get Support Understanding The Nature Of The Depression

Seek support to understand if the depression is clinical in nature or caused by work-related stressors. A clinical depression should be treated by a mental health professional. Even if the depression is situational, speaking to a professional can provide needed perspective, to feel more hopeful and in control of your situation. Be willing to commit to the process, even if it is uncomfortable.   - Richard Orbe-Austin, PhD, Dynamic Transitions Psychological Consulting, LLP 

11. Assess, Get Help, And Stay Communicative

First, determine what's driving the depression (is is situational or something else?) before working with a therapist on identifying a treatment plan. The next step is crucial: Be honest about what you're going through. Mental health issues still face a stigma, but open communication (within your comfort zone) is crucial.   - Emily Kapit, MS, MRW, ACRW, CPRW, ReFresh Your Step, LLC 

12. Ask For Help

Ego is the enemy of support. Depression can quickly derail an executive career, because it is certain to affect behavior. Leaders cannot be reluctant to seek professional support. This is why many companies have employee assistance programs that include access to licensed counselors on a confidential basis. We would seek treatment for a heart problem. Why not seek treatment for a mind problem?   - Patrick Jinks, The Jinks Perspective 

13. Discreetly First Get A Coach To Plot Your Path

Since this is specifically depression at work, then it's a clear indicator that something is wrong in this executive's work environment. It could be dissatisfaction with company culture or frustration from lack of getting traction. It could be burnout or overwork. An executive coach can help figure out the changes needed and map a strategy to get back on track or guide to deeper therapy if needed.   - Laura DeCarlo, Career Directors international