2 Questions for Revealing Your Leadership Blind Spots
When we hear the word “blind spot,” many people conjure up an image of driving down the highway unable to see the car tucked just out of sight from either the rearview or side view mirrors. On the road, the sound of a horn or the appearance of the hidden car at the last second can prevent a collision. Sometimes, unfortunately, that car remains in our blind spot right up until impact.
The same is true when it comes to our own leadership blind spots; our weaknesses and vulnerabilities exist… but just out of view, even when we look in the mirror. Occasionally, they honk at us, and we catch a glimpse of our own limitations, fallacies, false stories, limiting beliefs and/or bad behaviors in the mirror and we adjust, safely enhancing our driving skills along the way. Other times we have scarier near misses or even a fender-bender. Sometimes, tragically, we are oblivious to the fact that the five-car-pile-up we hear about on the news later was instigated by our own poor actions, or we even find ourselves in the middle of that pile-up.
While many leaders are indeed aware that their “style of driving” is causing pain for others and ultimately within themselves, it’s still hard for them to correct their driving at home or at work when they are often rewarded for their ability to be in the right gear at the right time – most of the time.
Part of the difficulty of seeing our blind spots is because they hide just behind our strengths.
- Are you so optimistic that you wait too long to deal with the reality of a failing project?
- Are you so positive that you dismiss others’ real pain thus causing more of it?
- Are you so good at analyzing the data that you forget to message it in a compelling way?
- Are you such an expert in your field that you forget to check the latest findings?
- Are you so focused on being right that you lose sight of what’s wrong with your behavior?
- Are you so indoctrinated in a view that you shut down understanding of another’s because it seems threatening rather than informative?
What am I missing?
One of the most classic blind spots leaders possess is an “I know” attitude. When leaders have an answer for everything their attitude promotes rigid and fixed thinking. Fixed thinking truncates intellectual curiosity and stifles creativity and innovation.
One of the best questions for leaders to ask in order to overcome the “I know” attitude blind spot is, “What am I missing?”
Before a leader hires, fires, jump-starts the engine, finalizes the game plan, signs the contract, rolls-out phase one, or pulls the trigger, they should ask, “What am I missing?” By asking this question of themselves and at least of two others with different areas of expertise, leaders can more effectively remove biases, preconceived filters and false assumptions. This question expands perspective and sheds light in an area that might be ignored otherwise.
Where’s the truth in the feedback?
Blind spots can weaken leaders’ effectiveness, diminish results, and create harmful unintended consequences. Blind spots exist in part because we are wired to see ourselves favorably. We have insider knowledge about our intentions. When we make a mistake, we can explain our good intentions— even if only to ourselves. Sometimes our explanation is candidly honest and other times we fabricate a filter to make our objective more pure, more justified— again, if only to ourselves.
Over time, leaders become less open to hearing contrary points of view and are less tolerant of back seat drivers who may indeed be providing constructive feedback that can improve a leader’s ability to drive safely. While it is indeed difficult to see our own blind spots because, um, well, we’re blind to them, the bad news is that others see them vividly. However, bad news can be good news. When we change lanes while driving 65 mph, it’s obvious that we need to check our blind spot. When we’re changing a fast moving organization, or getting ready to make a bold decision in our personal lives it is safer to allow, or better yet ask, someone to point out the cars we can’t see. Not just anyone, but someone that we trust to do so in a supportive, caring way—someone we will not punish for saying yes to our request for being our back-seat-driver.
When leaders ask people for constructive feedback, they then need to sit back and absorb the information without defensive posturing and without interrupting. For the moment, it’s just another respected person’s perspective. The real reflection is after that back seat driver has left, and leaders ask themselves, “Where’s the truth in the feedback?” Answering this question shines a bright light on possible blind spots and allows leaders to move forward more effectively.
The irony of self-righteousness is that when we discover some of our own fallacies, shortcomings, or blind spots and correct them, we will feel even better about our amazing virtue and driving skills. Caution… while other leaders are feeling virtuous or even sanctimonious for having asked and answered these two questions, just remember, they still may not see that gray car hanging back… just out of sight. But you can see it… and adapt accordingly.