Identify and Avoid Blind Spots as a Leader
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Regardless of how much leadership experience you have, there is no doubt that you have blind spots that may be hindering your growth. What if there was a way to confront and prevent them? Sandeep Ramesh, Head of Media and Entertainment, India at Google, reminds us that leaders are also human, and it is perfectly normal to have blind spots. He illustrates how blind spots can affect your performance and relationships as a leader and suggests a powerful feedback system that can help you navigate your blind spots.
GAIN ACTIONABLE INSIGHTS TO:
- 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 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 weaknesses 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 realize 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.
HOW TO IDENTIFY AND PREVENT BLIND SPOTS
The first step to identify your blind spots is to acknowledge that you do have blind spots. If you have climbed up the ladder in your particular profession, you surely have accomplished great things in the process. But be wary of resting on your laurels and getting complacent. Nobody is perfect! It is important to acknowledge that you still have weaknesses and areas that require a greater perspective from others. A great leader is one who recognizes their blind spots and accepts help from others to prevent them from happening.
Once you are aware that blind spots exist, build a rapport with a few people on your team whom you think you can trust. Establishing a relationship with your team is vital to open up doors for transparency and honesty. Choose a few people who would be comfortable enough to honestly tell you what your blind spots are.
Because it would be difficult to build a rapport with everyone, you should be able to find a handful of people who don’t have much at stake and would be willing to be honest with you. Most of the valuable feedback I have received has come from an informal setting. People who exposed my blind spots did not mean any harm, but instead wanted to help me become an even better leader.
You have to find people who mean well for you and care enough for you but are also on the receiving end of your blind spots. Because they experience your blind spots firsthand, they would be able to give you the clearest picture and perspective on what your blind spots are, when they tend to show up, and how they affect an individual or your team.
Building a rapport with your team is the foundation for open, honest conversations. If you show genuine interest and concern for everyone on your team, then it will be reciprocated. Your team would feel comfortable having transparent conversations with you.
If you are in a position to influence your company or team’s system of feedback, it would be good to create opportunities for both formal and informal feedback. It is through feedback that you can build up your team and nurture future leaders. Feedback gives you a broader perspective of how you are perceived and what areas you need to work on.
In a corporate setting, you are most likely to have blind spots when working with your team. If your team is made up of peers, then they are likely to expose your blind spots when it occurs. But if you are leading a team, it is dangerously easier for your blind spots to grow. Those who work under you may not be as willing to give you instant feedback.
Although peer feedback is helpful, the most important feedback comes from the team you lead. If you think that your team is well-meaning and honest, then they would be able to provide you with valuable feedback about blind spots that you may be missing.
For even more transparent feedback, consider talking to people in your personal life, such as your family members or your spouse. They would be able to give you valuable feedback because they hear your stories as an outsider. They may provide a perspective that could change how you view a person or a situation.
Whether you have just received feedback about your blind spots or watched something go south, the course of your future depends on if and how you choose to reflect on what has happened. Take a step back and reflect on what could have been done differently to achieve a more positive outcome.
For my team, I like to conduct an exercise to assess our actions and determine how we can perform better the next time around. We base the entire discussion on the hypothetical assumption that everything that went sideways was our mistake. Then, we make a list of things we could have done differently. Because this is approached as a hypothetical situation, people are more open to discussing mistakes made and lessons learned to prevent this from happening in the future.
HOW YOU CAN PREVENT BLIND SPOTS
First, make a list of the leadership traits that you feel most confident in. These would be your top strengths, the traits that have got you to the top. Then, question each trait. Could this trait be a blind spot? If it is on your list, the answer is probably yes. Take some time to reflect on different leadership situations where you could exercise this trait. Try to examine the situation from another perspective to identify potential blind spots.
In order to confirm your hunch, you must be willing to challenge your judgments. Good leaders are expected to have sharp judgment of people. But human judgment is always likely to be biased when it is based on your initial experience with someone, whether good or bad. If you believe that you judge people well, even the truth would not be able to change your mind.
Most problems in society today are caused by people who are not willing to change their stance. We choose to relentlessly stand by our judgment because we believe our judgment is good. If I question my judgment, it ultimately proves me wrong. Even if others present me with facts proving the contrary, they would never register. But if I’m presented with facts confirming my judgment, then it only strengthens my blindsided judgment.
For example, if you like creative people and notice this trait in someone, you might assume that this person is good at everything else. It is unlikely for this to be true because even a creative person you admire has weaknesses. But because you like creative people, you are likely to project a halo onto this person and fail to see other aspects for improvement.
This is also true vice versa. If you like someone who is disciplined and rigorous, but a team member does not display these traits, you might be quick to write him off. Because you judged this person based on two traits, you project your negative judgment onto every area. When you do this, you would fail to see that maybe this person is very honest or creative. Be careful not to judge someone too quickly based on one trait, whether good or bad.
WHY SO SERIOUS?
When you are first confronted with your blind spot, your reflex reaction may be to assume that it is a one-off thing. You can either choose to think that your blind spot is a one-off instance, or you can choose to take it seriously. Your approach and course of action all depends on your mindset.
Once you acknowledge that you have blind spots, approach your blind spots with a sense of humor. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Be willing to make jokes about yourself and your blind spots with your team. Remember that blind spots do not make you a horrible leader; it just makes you an honest one.
When I make jokes about being preachy, it is easier to receive feedback from my team when I am being preachy. Openly talk about your blind spots with your team and be prepared to discover more. You may even discover that people are often more forgiving when you allow yourself to be transparent about your blind spots.
Then make a list of situations when your blind spot may arise. The more aware you are of your blind spot, the more prepared you will be to prevent it making an appearance and affecting your performance. When a potential situation occurs, pause and acknowledge that your instinctive reaction is your blind spot. Then consider other options for your course of action.
STEPS TO TAKE IN 24 HOURS
1. Keep a Lookout for Your Blind Spots
Recognize that a flawed leader is still a good leader. A compelling leader is one who acknowledges their blind spots and tackles them head on. Self-reflect to discover your blind spots so that you can prevent them and grow into a more effective leader. Blind spots are often in places where you think you succeed.
2. Build a Feedback System Based on Trust
As you build a rapport with your team, you establish the foundation for which your team will feel comfortable giving you feedback to help you become a better leader. Make sure that your team knows that you are okay with being a flawed leader. Don’t take yourself too seriously, and joke around with your team.
3. Keep an Eye on Your Instinctive Reactions
While it is difficult to get rid of your blind spots overnight, being aware of your blind spots empowers you to slow down and discover an alternative way to avoid running into your blind spots. Be patient with yourself and make the daily effort to address your blind spots and move forward.