We need less of this.
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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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
Nothing happens without the effective exchange of essential information, ideas and direction. Nothing great anyway. If you’re leading, then you’re communicating.
By Ron Miles, PCC
What’s a Manager?
Throughout my career in industry and as a coach, I’ve watched people struggle making the transition to a management position or even an experienced manager being “just good enough”. In either profession, when I assisted someone, I start by defining, “what is a manager”. Once again this is a subject that volumes have been written about. Over the years, I’ve condensed it down to a very simple definition. I’m not sure if it’s my words or I adopted them from someone else? In either case the definition is:
Manager = Getting things done with and through other people.
It’s simple, easy to remember, and clearly states the role. The success of a manager is determined by the success of each direct report.
The Three Questions
Once the manager understands their role, then the question becomes, “How do I turn this group into a highly effective team?” To achieve this, I ask them to focus on three questions, with each member of the team on an individual basis:
1. What’s my job?
2. How am I going?
3. Does anybody care?
What’s My Job?
In a Harris Interactive Poll of 23,000 employees from manufacturing, military, government, healthcare and telecommunications:
· Only 37% said they could clearly understand what their company is trying to achieve and why.
· Only 1 in 5 said they had a clear line of sight between their company goals and their task.
To this point, when I ask a manager if their direct reports clearly understand what they are expected to do, I consistently get an emphatic “yes”. To test this I use the following simple exercise:
I ask the manager “What are the three most important things the direct report is to complete this month?” The manager, generally with great assurance, will tell me. I then go to the direct report and ask, “What are the three most important things your manager expects you to complete this month?” Very seldom do I get the same answer!
As a manager, if you want your team to be effective, make sure they know what they are expected to do. If your life depended on it, how confident are you that your direct reports know what is expected of them, individually and as a whole? Don’t assume; after all the discussion and commitments have been made, have each individual repeat back to you what they have committed to do and by when.
How Am I Doing?
So once the direct reports know what they are supposed to do and set out to get it done, it seems obvious that they would want to know how they are doing. It’s called feedback. It lets them know that they are on the right track or if they need to change direction. This is not an annual, semi-annual, quarterly, or monthly performance review. Also, this should not be confused with dealing with poor performance that could result in disciplinary action. Those are entirely different topics. This is specifically a timely conversation between the manager and their direct report as to how the task/project is proceeding. This doesn’t require a formal meeting in the manager’s office. It can be done at the job site, on the shop floor, or standing in the hall. Based on observation and the conversation, “Is it on track or is there a need to change direction?” Then act accordingly.
If it’s that simple, why isn’t it consistently being done? Managers have three ways to communicate feedback; positive, negative, or none. Unfortunately, the option used most is none. (And they wonder why things aren’t going right!) The most prevalent explanation as to why feedback isn’t consistently given is that the manager is too busy dealing with critical issues, doesn’t understand the importance of positive feedback, and doesn’t have the courage or “know-how” to effectively deliver negative feedback.
So doing nothing is absolutely the worst thing to do! Giving positive feedback is one of the most critical things they should do. We’ll explain more in the third question. Finally, if a change in direction is needed, then negative feedback must be given. Again, we are not taking about an issue of poor performance, but for the need of a change of direction. It can be given in a constructive way that clarifies the change required and offers an opportunity for the direct report to learn and grow.
Does Anyone Care?
Whether you call it recognition or reward, study after study has concluded that the number one thing an employee wants to know is that their boss knows what they are doing and appreciates what they do. Appreciation is consistently the number one need that people have. So if you want something repeated, then recognize it. Let your direct report know, that you know and that their work is appreciated. To emphasize the importance even more, the same studies show that if the manager fails to let the direct report know that they care, the employee will assume the opposite. So, once again, doing nothing is the worst thing to do and in this case, over time, it actually makes performance.
So what should the manager do? Consistently communicate with their direct reports that they are aware of what they are doing and recognize good performance and that it’s appreciated. It doesn’t require a physical or monetary reward, just a simple verbal recognition:
Be Specific – State exactly what they did.
Be Sincere – Show that you mean it.
Be Timely – As soon as possible.
Obviously, with so much written on this subject, there’s no limit to the depth or complexity I could have gone, but that wasn’t my purpose. Over all, if you will start with these three questions you’ll be on the right track. The meaning and the depth of your understanding and application will grow as you put them into practice. Remember, Learning is knowledge plus practice.
Your questions and comments are both welcome and appreciated.
In 2010, IBM interviewed over 1,500 CEOs worldwide to learn what their challenges are and their strategies for addressing them (Capitalizing complexity: Insights from the Global Chief Executive Officer Study). Two challenges emerged at the top of the list: 1) escalating complexity, and 2) building the creative capacity and leadership to deal with it. These findings were consistent in the 2012 and 2014 CEO studies as well.
First let's look at escalating complexity.
The Boston Consulting Group explains it this way:
Managing complexity and it's related cost is a growing challenge for companies. The increasingly global nature of business gives rise to diverse customers and markets, convoluted supply chains, and vast supplier networks. The trend toward product customization allows customers to have it their way but wreaks havoc on production schedules and inventory management. Parts and components proliferate on warehouse shelves, sophisticated technologies and formulas underlie even the most basic products, and our gadgets have more features and functionality than ever before. The cost of this increasing complexity is often hidden, but they are almost always a significant drain on profitability.
The growth of complexity is reflected in businesses’ goals. Today companies, on average, set themselves six times as many performance requirements as they did in 1955, the year the Fortune 500 list was created. Back then, CEOs committed to four to seven performance imperatives; today they commit to 25 to 40. And many of those requirements appear to be in conflict: Companies want to satisfy their customers, who demand low prices and high quality. They seek to customize their offerings for specific markets and standardize them for the greatest operating return. They want to innovate and be efficient.
At the Boston Consulting Group, they’ve created an “index of complicatedness,” based on surveys of more than 100 U.S. and European listed companies, which measures just how big the problem is. The survey results show that over the past 15 years, the amount of procedures, vertical layers, interface structures, coordination bodies, and decision approvals needed in each of those firms has increased by anywhere from 50% to 350%. According to their analysis over a longer time horizon, complicatedness increased by 6.7% a year, on average, over the past five decades.
The second challenge as identified in the CEO study, is building the creative capacity and the leadership to deal with the escalating complexity.
Bob Anderson in his book, Mastering Leadership, describes what he calls the Leadership Imperative. The Leadership Imperative is simply this:
“The development of leadership effectiveness must, at a minimum, keep pace with the rate of change and the rate of escalating complexity. Not to keep pace with the rate of escalating complexity is to become less relevant and effective. If the challenges we face are more complex than we are, our leadership is inadequate and a competitive disadvantage.”
Bob Anderson goes on to say, “In business, collective leadership effectiveness is underutilized and rarely capitalize upon. Most development focuses on individual leaders, ignoring collective effectiveness and the leadership system.”
Take a moment and think about your direct reports. If I were to ask you about the collective leadership effectiveness of your team what would you say? More than likely you thought about the majority of your team that is effective and convinced your self they covered for the team member(s) that is ineffective. Unfortunately, research does not support your conclusion. Management expert, Peter Senge, notes that the collective intelligence and performance of most groups is well below the average intelligence and performance of the members. We usually dumb down when we come together. We act at the lowest common denominator.
Let me bottom line this for you. Your least effective team member IS your collective leadership effectiveness. Does this concern you? If this is true, do you still have a leadership advantage?
As business continues to escalate in complexity it is imperative that you increase the individual and group collective leadership effectiveness. Your ability to develop leaders capable of navigating in an increasingly complex world is a strategic priority and a competitive advantage.
Collective effectiveness carries the day.
Here are some questions to consider:
Leadership development programs of today are not up to this challenge. Most approaches to developing leaders focus primarily on developing competency and capability. These approaches are insufficient in a world of escalating complexity. We need to develop capability, to be sure, but we need to do much more. We need to develop the complexity of mind of the leader because, if the complexities of the challenges we face are more complex than we are, we are outmatched. But if we can evolve the complexity of the mind of the leader, to be equal to the complexity of the challenge, we can lead.
The executive coaches at Bridgepoint Coaching & Strategy Group are certified in a new leadership system that is designed to uncover your personal and your team’s collective leadership effectiveness. When you are ready to know your CLE contact us at www.BridgepointCSG.com