For the most part, the human eye gives the brain an accurate picture of what's going on in the world around it. Many assume that what they see is all that is actually out there. That's not entirely true. Each human eye has a blind spot. The brain handles the blind spot by scanning the surrounding environment to fill in what is missing so you’re not even aware the blind spot is present.
-A leadership blind spot is something you stink at that you think you’re great at-
Much like the human eye, leaders have blind spots and are usually unaware they are present. We call them leadership blind spots. To be clear, a leadership blind spot is not the same as a weakness. A weakness is a challenge you’re aware of. In contrast, a leadership blind spot is something you stink at that you think you’re great at.
According to an article published by Allen Sockwell and Brad Westveld, the top two leadership blind spots are 1) under-communicating strategic direction and 2) poorly communicating expectations. These two made the top blind spot list not because everyone is bad at them but because most leaders and organizations think they are doing them well.
-As executive coaches, our role is to help leaders see and overcome their blind spots-
At the core of our blind spots is something called illusory superiority; a cognitive bias where individuals overestimate their own qualities and abilities, relative to others. For instance, in a classic 1977 study, 94 percent of professors rated themselves above average relative to their peers. In another study, 32 percent of the employees of a software company said they performed better than 19 out of 20 of their colleagues. You do the math.
A leadership blind spot can hurt relationships, hinder performance and derail your career. As executive coaches, our role is to help leaders see and overcome their blind spots. Here’s how:
1. Start with a vision of how you want to be perceived.
Before you go searching for your blind spots, you need a clear picture of the leader you’d like to be. Here are just a few questions to answer of yourself: How do I want my leadership characterized by others? What’s my ideal reputation? What impact would I like to make on others? How do I want to communicate and interact with colleagues? The idea is to create a clear and compelling picture of the leader you want to become. Write down and hold on to the vision you create in this step. You’ll be more likely to listen to hard feedback in the next steps when you’re serious about becoming the leader you envision.
2. Ask for candid feedback.
Reach out to people who have observed your performance and are willing to give you candid feedback on how you are perceived. This can be done using a formal 360° assessment, an executive coaching conversation or informally over lunch with a colleague. I remember asking a co-worker to give me feedback on my leadership abilities. He told me how I steamroll him and others when I have a big idea and people perceive me as a bully because of it. The feedback shocked me and was very difficult to hear. I truly believed that I was good at building consensus but I had no idea the impact I was actually having on my team. That conversation hurt but taught the value of feedback. I only wish I’d heard it years earlier.
-It’s possible your blind spot is that you don’t receive feedback well-
Some of you may be thinking, “I ask my people all the time for feedback and they tell me I’m doing fine.” It’s possible your blind spot is that you don’t receive feedback well, therefore your team is unwilling to be honest with you. If that’s the case, you’ll need to work toward building a safe environment for feedback.
3. Receive the feedback.
How should you receive feedback? With a genuine “thank-you”. Leaders often fail to routinely get critical feedback from their teams on performance not because they don’t ask, but because the environment isn’t safe. It’s the leaders job to create safety. You may not like or agree with what you hear, but getting defensive or turning the conversation around is a sure-fire way to guarantee that person will never be honest with you again.
How you respond to feedback will determine the kind of feedback, if any, you receive in the future. A good leader asks for feedback. A great leader receives it.
4. Adjust perspectives and behaviors to align with vision.
Now it’s time to think and act differently. I can’t imagine much worse than giving your team the hope of positive change by genuinely asking them for feedback then doing nothing with that feedback. This is where having an executive coach can really accelerate your performance and help keep you on track. A coach reminds you of the vision, gives you critical feedback, helps shift your perspectives, inspires insight and co-creates a path forward to achieving your vision.
-When you make a commitment you build hope, when you keep a commitment you build trust-
We all have leadership blind spots. Seeing and overcoming them is not for the faint of heart but the effort is worth it. What will you do about your blind spots?