There is a weakness that nearly every leader shares, whether they lead a Fortune 500 company, non-profit organization, sports team or family. But it’s not as obvious or clear cut as poor time management, lackluster decision-making abilities or subpar interpersonal skills. While this particular weakness plagues virtually every leader, it can go unnoticed and unaddressed for years because of its inherent nature.
It’s the inability of the leader to identify their own blind spot(s).
By definition a blind spot is something that someone can’t readily identify or acknowledge for various reasons, which often means that it’s a developmental area that goes unobserved and uncorrected. While blind spots are not unique to leaders, the trappings of leadership (e.g. success, responsibility, stress, workload…etc.) may further obscure the blind spots of a leader. Despite that nearly universal shortcoming, here are four ways that a leader can help identify their own potential blind spots.
1. The leader should consider the three biggest failures that they have experienced, either professionally or personally, and try to identify a common thread throughout. Perhaps the common link amongst the series of failings was an inability to manage stress, or possibly poor planning, a lack of vision or an issue of indecision. A common trait or tendency across a set of defeats, may be an indicator of a potential underlying area for improvement that the leader can identify, engage and correct.
2. An unconventional approach that a leader seeking self awareness might utilize would be a 720º evaluation. The usual process for professional assessment within the corporate environment is the traditional 360º evaluation where feedback is solicited for an individual via their peers, subordinates and superiors. This “surround sound” approach provides some worthwhile insights, yet it may not offer a complete assessment. The leader who wants to fully identify their blind spots might consider a personal 360º overlay as well that may involve a spouse, older children or close non-work friends. This combined 720º evaluative cycle may shed some valuable perspective beyond the traditional solo professional assessment model.
3. The concerned leader might also do well at acknowledging those areas in other individuals of which the leader tends to be the most critical. For example, a leader who is constantly deriding staff for failure to follow a specific process may actually be too dependent on procedures and protocol, lacking necessary creative flexibility – this might be a possible area for improvement exploration. Conversely, a leader who continually asserts that his/her direct reports lack focus might subconsciously be manifesting their own inadequacy within that particular area. Either way, the critical projection of behaviors and conduct onto others usually indicates a gap in the individual who’s doing the projecting – leaders are not immune.
4. Lastly, a leader seeking to maximize their skill set should entertain the idea of engaging a productivity/executive coach. These individuals specialize in professional development and often have experience helping leaders or executives breakthrough to the next level. The reality is that the skills and habits that helped a leader achieve their current position, may not be the same skills needed to advance farther along the success trek. High performance individuals including professional athletes, singers, actors and Olympians rely on a wide array of various coaches to help reveal problem areas and ways to improve – high performance leaders may benefit from similar perspectives offered by an experienced executive coach.
While these suggestions are not exhaustive, they offer a solid place for a leader to start who wants to identify and become aware of their respective blind spots. As the saying goes, “Awareness is the key to change.” For the leader with blind spots – and that means nearly every leader – awareness is a necessary step toward gaining clarity, insight and vision for themselves and their respective organization.
Question: In light of this essay, what areas in your personal or professional life are you having the most difficulty where blind spots might be a factor?