How to Avoid 4 Leadership Blindspots and Save Yourself from Yourself
We all have blind spots. These are things that others know about you, but about which you are completely clueless. They can be small things…
- A stain on your shirt that everyone sees – except you.
- A conversation that you arrive late to and say something out of place. Everyone knows the arc of the discussion – except you.
- A mispronounced word when speaking a foreign language. Everyone correctly says it – except you.
If you survived your teenage years, you’ve no doubt had at least one of these experiences. You might be embarrassed when the blind spot is revealed; however, the damage is typically not too significant – at least in the long-run.
On the other hand, if you are in a leadership role, some of these blind spots can be particularly costly. They can impact your professional reputation, performance, and organizational results.
In 1955, American psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham created the Johari window to help us better understand how we interact with others. They taught us four areas: open, hidden, unknown, and blind spots.
- Open: Known to you and others (e.g., a certain skill, work experience, etc.)
- Hidden: Known to you, but unknown to others (e.g., an insecurity, unrevealed feeling, etc.)
- Unknown: Neither known to you or others (e.g., a bias that you have yet to discover, a fear that you haven’t uncovered, a capability that you never had reason to know you possessed)
- Blind: Known to others, but not known to you. These are blind spots.
There are many potential blind spots, but I find these four are particularly pervasive and costly. Each is based on a specific assumption. Are you falling prey to any of these?
1. Assuming People Know the Goals
Research suggests that only 15% of people can actually name their leaders’ most important goals. But, many leaders assume everyone knows what’s most important.
I once worked with a client who swore all of his employees knew the top goal and challenged me to prove him wrong. The next day I presented a list of 23 different goals that his employees said were most important. All 23 stemmed from the leader. Although the leader saw himself as the goal-oriented, visionary-type, they felt he hadn’t met an idea that he didn’t like. Consider these questions:
- What are the 1-3 most important goals for your team or organization?
- Do your people know the goals?
- How do you know they know them?
2. Assuming People Know What They Should Do
Clarifying and communicating a goal is critical, but insufficient. Employees also need to understand how their work connects to the stated goals. Assuming people understand the connection, or that a connection exists at all, is another leadership blind spot.
When you assume people know what to do, you may walk out of your meetings asking each other questions like, “That sounds like a great idea, but what can we do to impact that goal?” In these instances, people don’t feel empowered; they feel abandoned. Consider these questions:
- Do your people know what they can do to accomplish the goals?
- Do they understand how their daily work drives goal accomplishment?
3. Assuming You Know How to Best Do Your Employees’ Jobs
Sometimes a leader assumes that he or she knows best how to accomplish the goal. The leader both tells the people the goal and how to do it. Unlike the abandonment issue above, these leaders are micromanaging. The leader assumes he is being helpful, but the people simply believe that they are not trusted. Of course, this is a bad situation, but it’s even worse if the leader doesn’t really know how best to do the task.
- Do you ask your people how they might choose to go about accomplishing the goals?
- Are you too directive?
- Could you be violating the concept that involvement breeds commitment.
4. Assuming You Know What Your People Find Motivating
Different things motivate people. What one might consider a reward, another thinks is far from positive recognition. Some leaders assume that if they personally find something motivating that their people will feel the same.
Be mindful that a financial reward isn’t too motivating if the employees simply want a few extra hours of free time. Most of your folks already have enough t-shirts and coffee mugs. Moreover, a pat on the back or a hand written note is sometimes reward enough. If you really want to know what motivates your people, don’t assume, ask.
- How effective have your last reward/incentive programs been?
- Do you know what truly motivates your people?
- When was the last time you asked them?
Patrick Leddin, PhD is a speaker, global leadership consultant, and The Wall Street Journal bestselling author of The Five-Week Leadership Challenge. Patrick is an Associate Professor at Vanderbilt University with a thriving leadership blog and podcast, and 25-years of leadership experience. He offers an unparalleled mix of academic rigor and real-world experience.