Have you ever experienced a blind spot in your eye? If not, do this test here:
Close your left eye and focus on the X. Very slowly, move your head toward the image and back again. Somewhere between 15 and 30 centimetres away the O will seem to disappear. That is your blind spot.
The fascinating thing is what happens to your vision: It’s not that you see a black spot there. Or a warning sign “Sorry, you can’t see anything here.”
No, what you see is a white surface, similar to the surroundings. The brain just fills it up with pieces of surrounding colors.
The question, of course, is: What are your other blind spots in life, and especially the blind spots in your leadership style?
Here are four blind spots that I have seen even the best leaders at times exhibit:
Blind spot: Locked-in thinking in terms of one’s own leadership approach
Often leaders start working in their 20’s and then form their view on leadership. They see how people act and do things. Additionally, they experience their first bosses, which can have a lasting impact on how they will act as a leader.
The issue: the tools, approaches etc. can be locked in there and are often not adopted any more to new situations. Or, for instance the resource situation could have completely changed. Where it used to be 20 years ago that five people could spend 1 week reviewing a memo, these five people have become two in the new, lean organization. If the leader then demands the same amount of reviewing etc. of a memo as 20 years ago, this can lead to frustration in the workforce and organizations: a massive blindspot.
What can you do here?
- Regularly test out a new approach for yourself or your team, and see if it sticks;
- Constantly ask yourself: what is the one thing that I can implement next month to be a better leader?
- Ask for the “HP” feedback: What can I start/stop/continue?
Blind spot: Confirmation seeking
In an environment where one is a senior leader, there are often very few people who speak up and straight to you. Therefore, one starts to get a filtered view of the world. The issue and blindspot: Many leaders still ask for feedback, and then rely on the answers as if this was the objective truth (“Hey, what did you think of the conference that we organised?” “Uhm, it was super, I suppose” “Ok, great”). The issue with that is that they take it to be the truth, whereas it is often not, or just a limited version of it.
This is similar to the feedback one gets connected to loosing weight: When you have lost weight, everybody will tell you “Ah, have you lost weight”? However, if you gain weight, only very, very few people will tell you “hey, you really have added some pounds, haven’t you”? As a leader you should embrace reality and overcome this blind spot in order to be successful.
What can you do here?
- Installing a culture of debate and which encourages dissent;
- Get an external senior coach who challenges you;
- Establish a personal advisory board.
Blind spot: Locked-in thinking in terms of own organization and market
Similar to the above, leaders can have a blindspot in terms of their view of markets and organizations. I call these Leadership QWERTY Problems. The QWERTY keyboard was installed not because it allowed for optimal writing but because it allowed minimal interlock/problems of the mechanical typewriters. With the move to electronic typewriters and computers this problem that the QWERTY arrangement addressed went away.
However, QWERTY stayed because it was so established and changing it would mean massive efforts.
In organizations, there are many QWERTYs ingrained in the way the organization works: reporting processes; feedback structures; sales approaches, etc. A typical blind spot would be to “go with the flow” here and optimize everything without asking “Why are we doing this, exactly?”
What can you do here?
- Regularly do “white sheet” exercises for processes and products, and build things up from scratch;
- Allow for your own innovation labs in your circle of influence where you regularly test out new approaches;
- Go through processes such as the “Five times why” for all errors / issues that show up. Push yourself to go beyond first and easy explanations.
Blind spot: Remote image
Many leaders have worked hard to improve their interpersonal communication skills. However, in almost all large organizations today, and in many small companies as well, face-to-face communication is not the norm any more. A modern blind spot can be that leaders are unaware of their remote image.
Communication over email, phone, webmeetings etc. have taken over. But often, individuals come across differently in these channels, especially via email. This can be shown for instance whenever one has the reaction “Wow, this person is really different from what I imagined him/her to be like” when you meet somebody for the first time face-to-face. This can have negative impacts as the leader might come across for instance more aggressive in his/her emails without meaning it, and in consequence have a negative impact on the organization.
What can be done here?
- Do regular email checks, have them read by another person for impact and tone;
- Get feedback on video conferencing skills: Do you come across professionally, is the lightening ok, is the a Mickey Mouse drawing in the background that you are not aware of?
- Ask anonmously for remote communication impact, also for instance if you write on the company’s blog.
Work on your blind spots
Blind spots in leadership can be dangerous, as there is a double-impact when you have a leadership position: 1) you probably will have more and new blind spots because of your leadership position; 2) because of your position, people are less likely to make you aware. That’s why an active investment in analysing one’s own leadership blind spots is key.
What are the leadership blindspots that you have noticed? Let’s discuss in the comments.
Lars Sudmann is an expert on high-performance leadership in global corporations. You can contact Lars to work with you as keynote speaker at your next event or strategy advisor for management teams.