No matter how hard we try to be self-aware, everyone—including the best leaders—has unproductive behaviors that are invisible to us but glaring to everyone else.
A blind spot is a performance-hindering mindset or behavior of which you’re unaware or have chosen to overlook. A recent Business Week article cites some important research:
- A Hay Group study shows that an organization’s senior leaders are more likely to overrate themselves and develop blind spots that can hinder their effectiveness.
- A study by Development Dimensions International, Inc., found that 89 percent of front-line leaders have at least one skills-related blind spot.
The Hay research suggests that, as executives rise within an organization, the less likely they are to see themselves as others perceive them. They often lose touch with those they lead—not surprising, given their increased isolation and the executive suite’s “rarified” atmosphere. As they reach the pinnacle of their profession, they have fewer peers and greater power. Honest feedback and open dialogue often become rare commodities. This poses a serious problem, as researchers have found a direct correlation between high performance and inaccurate self-awareness.
The most common blind spots are:
The Experience Blind Spot
We rarely examine what led to a successful outcome, including luck’s role in the process. We automatically assume we were right. When we encounter a new situation, we impulsively draw on our memories of success, without questioning whether prior strategies fit current circumstances. Debriefing is a key success factor that isn’t used in most organizations. The airlines and military do it and you should too.
Thus, a long history of accolades and achievements can potentially produce troublesome blind spots. The danger is assuming that past results guarantee future successes.
The Personality Blind Spot
Each personality type has strengths and weaknesses and when carried to the extreme or inflamed by stressful situations, even our core strengths can become career-damaging weaknesses.
For example, if you’re naturally optimistic, your thinking is biased toward the positive. This is usually good if you’re charged with inspiring others. There are times when optimism backfires and leaves you blindsided by negative realities—something you miss until it’s too late.
Personality blind spots are often hard to discover because we value our strengths so highly. We often fail to see the downside of what works so well for us. With increased awareness, you can train yourself to detect emerging blind spots. Ask yourself:
- Am I playing to the downside of my strengths?
- How will I know when my strengths blind me to my inherent weaknesses?
- Who can be a sounding board as I work toward increasing self-awareness?
The Values Blind Spot
When your attitude and emotions are out of sync with your values, you become uncomfortable and unbalanced. What we say and do is incongruent with what we believe and who we are.
Values blind spots can occur on a personal or group level. They are particularly dangerous when you’re somewhat aware of them, then fail to take appropriate corrective action.
In business situations, a values blind spot can affect large groups. Can you think of a time when an implied incentive to maintain the status quo conflicted with a change initiative? That’s a typical values blind spot in action.
Strategy Blind Spots
Organizations frequently reward conformity and punish critical or questioning voices.
When a collective view becomes self-reinforcing around a set of practices, assumptions or beliefs, there is potential for groupthink. Creativity and agility suffer because conformance is valued above change, and risk is discouraged.
Strategy blind spots can occur in any organizational area. They’re often spotted in hindsight, after an important opportunity is missed.
Leaders who prize openness and transparency have the best chance of spotting strategy blind spots. They encourage input at all levels, fostering a culture of trust where ideas are honestly debated.
The Conflict Blind Spot
Conflict can be healthy in relationships and organizations where trust has been established. Diverse perspectives challenge tunnel vision and the status quo, while promoting learning and innovation. When issues are constructively debated, new solutions emerge.
Conflict becomes destructive when positive energy turns negative and erodes trust. Empathy and insight are tossed aside when we filter incoming information through the lens of what we believe and want. We categorize others as the enemy, who must be wrong.
Instead of debate, conflict becomes a power struggle that prevents you from seeing any solution (other than winning your point).
You must reboot your higher intelligence to find your way out of a conflict blind spot. Slow the discussion; perhaps even take a break. Breathe deeply and re-center yourself. When you return to discussions, acknowledge common ground instead of focusing on gaps.
Overcoming Blind Spots
All our executive coaching and team leadership clients complete an attribute index that identifies their blind spots and we discuss how it influences decision-making. A blind spot’s effects may not show up right away. Without paying careful attention, you may miss the warning signs. It’s critical for you to proactively work toward discovering them, before you feel the effects.
Consider working with a professional coach. Also take a look at past or current struggles to determine whether blind spots have hindered your performance. What can you learn from your mistakes? What would you do differently in the future? Reframe situations from others’ perspectives.
When you are uncertain of a blind spot, fight against the normal inclination to stay anchored in safe, established patterns.