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Identify and Avoid Blind Spots as a Leader

Apr 14, 2020 | 12m

Gain Actionable Insights Into:

  • Why acknowledging that it is normal to have blind spots is half the battle won
  • Understanding common blind spots that hinder most leaders
  • Simple ways to prevent blind spots from hampering your effectiveness as a leader

All Leaders Have Blind Spots

If you are currently a leader, you probably have succeeded in more than one role over the course of your career in order to attain your position today. There is no cookie-cutter recipe for the best leader because each person is different. You have a unique set of strengths that fuel your success, as well as weakness that hinder your growth. With every step you took towards success, people would have praised you for your strengths and rewarded you for your diligence and determination.

Due to human nature, repeated praise can lead to a swelling of your ego. The problem that comes with a big ego is that you’re less likely to be aware of your blind spots. But hey, you’re only human! And there is no such thing as a “perfect” leader. So, in order for you to be the most effective leader you can be, you must understand and accept your blind spots. In fact, you are more likely to have blind spots if you don’t accept that they exist.

Many people do not want to accept that they are flawed. If you think you are a good leader, then you probably don’t think that you have flaws. It seems contradictory to believe that you are a good leader and you have flaws. This view itself is a blind spot. You are most likely to have blind spots in areas where you think you succeed.

For me, I rate myself quite highly on trustworthiness, approachability, and the ability to add value to the lives of others outside of the work culture. When I received feedback from others, they said that I came across as preachy and presented myself with a holier-than-thou vibe. Now that I know about this blind spot, I am more aware of it. I don’t take myself too seriously and joke about it with my team.

This is also an example of one of the most common blind spots. While you are fully aware and craft the intent of what you do, you may be blind to the impact that your action has on the receiving person. Most of us rate what we do based on our intent. The problem is, you are the only one who is aware of your intent. In your mind, your intent is always noble. But the impact of your action on others and how they perceive what you do may be strikingly different.

Intent Versus Impact

Leaders tend to confuse our noble intent with the reality of the impact on others. We automatically assume that people should have the same opinion and perception of what we do. And we are more likely to become defensive of our actions because our intent is noble.

My blind spot in the impact of my actions was evident during the appraisal discussions with my team. I focused primarily on what my team can do to improve. In my mind, I believed that the greatest value I could provide was to identify my team’s weaknesses and help them become better team players. But feedback from my team revealed that my intent to help them succeed came across as too much criticism.

Although my intent to help my team improve was noble and necessary, the team perceived my criticism to be overbearing. I focused too much of my attention on criticism and failed to encourage the team on areas where they were thriving.

I learned that people are more likely to absorb feedback if you first praise them for what they are doing well. When the majority the discussion is centered around areas to improve, people are less likely to absorb everything that you tell them. While my intent was to help people, it was perceived very differently, and it affected the effectiveness of my desired intent.

Flaws in Judgement

Another common blind spot is the instinct to project your personality and tendencies onto how you expect your team to perform. Personally, my default action in a crisis is to become more rigorous in everything that I do. When my team was behind a target, I projected this onto my team and expected everyone else to work as rigorously as I did.

While working rigorously is a potential way to resolve a problem, it is not the only way. And it is certainly not everyone’s way of working. Working rigorously was my comfort zone, but it was not necessarily the way that things had to be done. Instead of helping the team, projecting my work ethic onto the team was unnecessary and redundant.

It is also easy to misjudge people based on an initial interaction or bias. This blind spot probably causes the most discussion about you as a leader. Your team would wonder, “How can you not realise how bad this person is?” or “How do you not recognize someone who is an essential contributor to our team?”.

This blind spot occurs when you fail to see a person in the context of the entire company. You are judging the person based on one particular context or interaction, but the truth is, you do not witness the person in all contexts. Perhaps your bias is even preventing you from trying to experience the person in a different context.

Perhaps an individual is great at working with bosses, but they may give off bad vibes when working with peers. As a leader, your job is to make the extra effort to find out how other people experience this person. It is your responsibility to create a judgment that is not only based on your experience but on what you hear and perceive.

This is an incredibly difficult blind spot to overcome. Especially if you are someone who prides yourself on being able to judge people well, you are most likely to succumb to your instinctive judgment about other people. Your one experience of someone eventually becomes a blind spot and prevents you from seeing the person in light of a larger and multifaceted context.

Crafting a Vision

Finally, as you plan for the development of your team and business in an even larger context, you are likely to craft a vision to guide the future direction of your team. Although crafting a vision is important, being able to clearly articulate your vision with your team is often not given enough credit. If your vision ultimately falls on deaf ears, how can it be implemented effectively?

The vision you create must not only be crystal clear to you. It must be steered and communicated in a way that those receiving the vision understand where you want to go and how you want to get there. When you craft your vision, it will always seem coherent to you. But this does not necessarily mean that your team would perceive it the same way.

If you want your vision to hold value and be effective, you must make sure that it can be understood by the person who is least likely to understand it. Someone who is academically oriented is more likely to have blind spots when crafting a vision because you are comfortable in a world of complex and abstract concepts, where others might struggle to comprehend these ideas. A vision must be broken down to its simplest parts to be at its best. If complex ideas and jargon have become second nature to you, always remind yourself that what seems simple to you may not be simple to others. By keeping things concise and clear, you ensure that everyone can understand what you want for your company’s future.

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Sandeep Ramesh

Head - Partners Marketing, Americas | Former Head of Media and Entertainment, India




Be an Emotionally-Intelligent Leader