We would all like to think that we are completely aware as leaders of what is happening around us, and completely self-aware of how we are contributing to it but here is a harsh reality:
You probably are missing a lot… you have blind spots.
No matter how much time we invest in personal development, leadership development, and improving our skills as managers we all have blind spots in our leadership and are not seeing some important things that affect the performance of our organization, our people, and our outcomes.
Those blind spots may lead you to make poor choices (as they did recently with Wells Fargo and their “incentives”), they may be contributing to a poor office culture which you as the leader don’t see, or they may simply be limiting your employee’s engagement in their work which leads to poor productivity, outcomes, and likely loss of some of your talented team members.
The reality is that every leader has blind spots… you aren’t alone. The difference though between those leaders who consistently succeed and those whose blind spots ultimately cause them to fail is how you address them.
Here are 6 ways you can deal with your blind spots to help you move forward toward success:
- Raise Your Awareness
You likely suffer from some of the same blind spots as many other leaders and executives so do some research and learning and take some time for self-examination to see which ones you might be missing. According to the research from OnSearch Partners and Stockwell Performance Advisors in their white paper the top 10 leadership blind spots are: under-communicating strategic direction and priorities, poorly communicated expectations, waiting (hoping) for performance to improve, buying into the myth of the “irreplaceable employee”, investing too much time trying to coach “radical change”, hiring for capability and nothing else, accepting the current capabilities and limitations of your team, acting as the sole integrator of team goals and performance, believing all needed information flows up and down, and going quiet in times of change and uncertainty.Read the white paper for more detail on each of these big blind spots, but the bottom line is that if you are a leader you are likely guilty of one or more of these. Just being aware of the common blind spots allows you to be more self-aware of the ways that they are affecting you, your team, and your outcomes.
- Build Diversity
So many leaders that I come in contact with have built teams around them of people who are just like them. They hire in their own image so they have a group of professionals who most likely agree regularly, take similar approaches to goals, and bring similar life and professional experiences to the table. While hiring a homogeneous team does tend to cut down on disagreements and tension, it severely limits your potential because it cuts down on disagreements and tension.The Harvard Business Review recently published an article called Diverse Teams Feel Less Comfortable – And That’s Why They Perform Better that outlines some of the research and reasons why diversity is so important. Hire people who have different backgrounds and approaches to you. Hire people who will challenge you. Hire people who are smarter than you. Hire for diversity and reap the benefits.
- Assess Your Past Performance
We all have the “benefit” of an annual review by our manager once a year (or more often if you have a progressive manager who provides frequent feedback) but it is human nature to quickly review and “shelf” the feedback we receive and move back to our day-to-day challenges. It is good practice to set aside time on a regular basis to reflect on your past successes and failures to look for clues about your own behaviours that contributed to those results. You can even use the empathy mapping tool that I would typically use to prepare for important meetings with key stakeholders on yourself to help you really understand how your own actions may have been improved. Thinking about yourself, what you were seeing, hearing, and feeling, and how that contributed to your positive and negative actions will be enlightening and will again help with your self-awareness as new situations and challenges arise.
- Assess Your Habits and Work Styles
How you approach work and your daily habits can have a significant impact on those around you, specifically those who work for you. Do you typically do all the talking in a meeting? Do you race through material that you know well assuming everyone can keep up? Do you tune out and multi-task when your employees are talking with you? Sometimes you need some external help to get a better understanding of how your work styles and habits are being perceived by those around you. Tools like a 360 evaluation or anonymous interviews of some of your team members by an impartial third party can help to get you some of the candid feedback you need to assess how you are impacting others. Take time to reflect on how those actions, behaviours, and habits are affecting those people you need to engage and work to modify those behaviours and habits that are hindering your desired outcomes.
- Focus on People and Relationships
Connecting with people is one of the most important tools to improving your performance as a leader. You need to personally and authentically engage with each individual on your team to really create an engaging environment of communication and caring. Again the empathy mapping tools can be helpful to understand how people are behaving and reacting, but I have also used other more “sales oriented” tools to think about how I build those relationships. One tool I really like is the Mackay 66 from Harvey Mackay which is designed to help you learn and track your knowledge of customers. While the tool is designed for sales people and their relationships with their customers, the reality is that the same approach is very useful in working with your team members. How much do you really know about each one of your staff, what’s important to them, what their family looks like, what their goals are, and what’s happening in their life outside of work? Learn and care about your team members and you will be rewarded with engagement beyond your wildest dreams (and many fewer blind spots).
- Be Aware of Your Strengths (and their related Weakness when Extreme)
You are probably very aware of your personal and leadership strengths but are you also aware of the negative impact of your strengths when they are taken to the extreme. Often in stress situations we lean heavily on our strengths and can take them too far which results in a negative outcome. If you are typically able to make decisions quickly without having all the information that may be a strength in a fast moving environment, but when taken to the extreme may result in unnecessary risk-taking when you start making decisions without enough information just to keep up. If you are very organized and well planned that might be very beneficial, but when the pressure is on it may actually limit your ability to move a project forward – while you spend time planning and organizing the project may be spinning out of control.Think carefully about the strengths you have and the types of situations where they might not work for you. Being aware of those situations where you may need to break from your comfort zone and take a different approach in advance will help you better recognize those times that you need to think about your strengths differently.
One other approach you may want to consider is connecting with a mentor or coach who can give you a different perspective on what you are seeing, hearing, and feeling about your work. Often just having someone who you can sit and talk with who will ask you challenging questions, offer differing opinions and experiences, and force you to think about things through a different lens can help you identify your blind spots in a situation before it causes you real problems.
Bottom line is that sticking your head in the sand and pretending that you don’t have blind spots is one of the surest ways to fail as a leader. Take the time and do the work to improve your awareness of your blind spots to better address them as they come up and continue on your path to success.
Tim Empringham, MBA
Tim Empringham is a passionate advocate for Innovation in organizations of all sizes as a mechanism to drive growth, create uncontested market space, create new customer value, and drive efficiency into the internal organization. His focus is on disruption of thinking and markets through integrative thinking, structured Innovation frameworks, and leadership development of Innovation and Change leaders within the organization.