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Blind Spots: You Can't Change What You Can't See

Nov 03, 2021

Think about this.  At the top of his game, Tiger Woods had nine different coaches, to help him see his swing.  To help him see what he could not see.  To help him see his blind spots.  Nine!

As you think about the leaders in your organization, would you agree they all have blind spots?  What is it that they cannot see?  What are the blind spots that are preventing them from improving as leaders?

I've used a variety of methods over the years to enlighten myself and others about the things that get in the way to being the best version of ourselves we can be.  Every step has provided another piece of the puzzle.  After all, we are complex human beings.

And now, as the need for leadership is greater than ever, leaders need to become aware of their blind spots, those things that might derail them in their careers or their relationships.

The problem is we are all so familiar with our own intentions in any given moment, but what others can see is our actions and our behaviors.  They make judgments based on what they can see.  And they make assumptions.  And often, those assumptions are wrong.

Meanwhile, secure in our knowledge of our intentions, we may be totally unaware of the impact we are having on others.

Let me give you an example.  A client -let's call him George -- was being assessed on different leadership qualities.  For each trait, George was asked to rate himself on a scale of one to ten, and he asked five people who knew him best to also rate him.  In this particular case, the range was from "nurturing" (10) to "critical" (0). He rated himself a 10; his closest friends - every one of them - rated him zero.  Zero!  He was aghast!

To give George some grounding in how this might play out for others, we asked about his sons. (He has 6).  If one of them did something really good -- and he thought "Wow! He did a great job!" -- how often would he demonstrate those thoughts with his words or his actions?  After a long pause, he realized - in one of those light bulb moments - that thinking it was not the same as saying it or doing it.  Bingo! 

Thinking is not good enough.  People can't read your mind.  You have to demonstrate your thoughts through words or actions. And you have to be explicit. 

This type of realization can be dramatic and powerful.

Recently, I worked with a client to provide feedback to their senior leaders on the effectiveness of their leadership skills.  Because they wanted to gain the advantage of multiple perspectives, we used a multi-rater assessment tool known as a "360."  With regard to 15 leadership skills and 5 problems that can stall a career, each participant rated themselves and asked their boss, their peers and their direct reports to rate them as well.  This provides a great basis for comparison on how different people can perceive your behavior from different perspectives.  And it helps you to understand the need to be aware of where the other person is coming from in your interactions.  You can't successfully behave in the same exact way with everyone, regardless of your relationships with them.

Feedback like this can be invaluable to any leader who wants to better understand how their actions impact others.  It can help them close that gap between intent and impact.  It can demonstrate those times when you think things, but don't actually follow through and demonstrate those things with words and actions.  Like George, who saw himself as totally nurturing while others saw him as totally critical. In other words, it can shed some light on blind spots.

I applaud organizations like my client who are willing to invest in developing their leaders.  They understand the need - especially now - to build leadership competency at all levels in the organization.  They see the value of identifying blind spots, the ability to see what you cannot see.  They also recognize that real, measurable improvement needs to be individualized. Each person needs real data to work with.  Each person can decide where to focus time, energy, and attention in order to improve.  Each person gets to create their own action plan for moving forward.

So, what about the leaders in your organization?  What is it they cannot see?  What is it that may be derailing their progress as leaders? What is it they need to improve?

More importantly, who is the mirror they can trust to be objective and helpful in seeing exactly where blind spots lie and the impact they are having on their leadership?  Who is that person?


P.S. As always, I welcome your comments and your questions.  And please share this post with anyone who needs some food for thought.

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