What makes some people stand out as strong leaders? There is no one-size-fits all approach when it comes to effective leadership. Many people equate leaders with that of a superhuman with all the answers, all the vision and assume that all of them share the same palette of qualities and abilities. However, in fact, each one has their own unique blend of personality, beliefs, values, talents, weaknesses and blind spots. And each has their own unique leadership style and approach they take towards the challenges they face.
In other words, leadership often begins with inner or personal leadership qualities. They are a set of traits that define effective leader in you, and more or less centre around your ability to embrace change, inner resources such as self-awareness and self-mastery. These traits play an important role in guiding individuals, teams, or organisations towards the fulfilment of bigger goals and objectives. They help motivate others, communicate priorities to others and inspire them to commit to those goals.
But as a matter of fact, we don’t always see ourselves the way we are. We all have biases about ourselves that serve us in some way. They either support our sense of control, or our need to be right, or they make us look good to others and ourselves. Such self-serving biases create blind spots or a huge shadow around your leadership. And not correcting these blind spots keep you from becoming an influential and effective leader.
You can’t improve if you don’t know what you are doing wrong. — Shane ParrishTweet
To overcome your blind spots, you should be willing to drop your defences, risk being wrong, or unlearn something you’ve learned. So, it nevertheless becomes important to work on yourself as a leader, increase your self-awareness, including your strengths, weaknesses and blind spots.
What happens when a leader has blind spots?
We all have blind spots as it is natural for us to not know everything. There are things we know and then there are always certain areas where we don’t know what we don’t know. And there are always gaps in how we see our actions and how others perceive us leading us to leadership blind spots. What we don’t know about ourselves often makes us sometimes blind to the reality of our situation.
In today’s highly competitive working environment, not being conscious of your blind spots can seem counterproductive. Most of the leaders however operate on the belief that they must appear as though they know everything all the time or else they think, they are not effective. But in fact, whether you acknowledge your blind spots or not, everyone still sees them. And not being aware only creates negative perception.
For instance, your confidence and authority as a leader, may be coming across as arrogant and insensitive. Or at times, you may have forgotten to ask for input and perhaps exceeded authority. This can result in tunnel vision or a narrow focus leading to a leadership blind spot. So, inspite of having clear goals and proper laid out plans to achieve them, you find your teams/employees remain confused or dissatisfied.
Similarly, you might be optimistic and know for sure that your ideas are going to work, but however, if you have failed either to provide your team with enough information, or your plans are not grounded in facts, your optimism might come across as exaggeration or unrealistic. And at other times, inspite of having taken inputs from everyone, and having a plan to implement, you might come across indecisive if you are not collaborative in your approach.
In certain occasions, you might come across rigid or fixed in your leadership approach. In such instances, you are unable to consider out of the box suggestions or alternative solutions. Identifying your own blind spots helps you improve your personal leadership qualities. And not being aware of them on the other, might hinder your effectiveness as a leader and prevent you from reaching your full potential.
Here are blind spots some leaders exhibit.
- Going it all alone. This leadership blind spot makes you come across as arrogant and unconcerned about other perspectives. When unchecked, your teams or employees’ feel treated unfairly or not as important. Separating yourself from your team can result in lack of trust and can impact your relationship with your peers or coworkers. Also, going it alone could only result in accomplishing a fraction of what you want to as compared to involving others— their perspectives, experiences or abilities.
- Being overly critical. Leaders with this leadership blind spot are often critical and may always find some aspect of an employee performance as not up to their expectations. Constant criticism can lead to unnecessary stress and employee burn out. Overly critical leaders are often blind to the needs of others, and are perceived as insensitive in their behaviours.
- Micromanaging. This blind spot is closely linked to a leaders’ inability to delegate. Some leaders feel delegating means losing control and Indus on doing everything their way. These are the leaders who constantly check up on their team or employees to make sure they are doing what they should be doing. They hardly give credit to others. Chances are that such leaders are perceived as close-minded, rigid. And not being aware of this blind spot reduces employee motivation and confidence.
- Avoiding difficult conversations. Certain people avoid difficult workplace conversations, such as giving or receiving feedback, addressing a poor performance or tackling difficult people or conflicts. If as a leader, you are blind to your avoidance tendency, you might end up letting emotions cloud your judgment, or take things personally, or look at the issue from only your perspective, and avoid difficult conversations. This further leads to poor working relationships and conflicts.
- Insecurity. Leaders who are insecure about their own leadership competencies feel insecure about being judged, rejected or criticised. As a result, they tend to indulge in defensive, selfish, excessively competitive or overly critical behaviours. This leadership blind spot makes them threatened by others growth, creates unhelpful narrow perspectives, or a tunnel vision, and leads to poor decision-making.
- Lack of integrity. Leaders with this blind spot are susceptible to unethical decisions and are not authentic. Such leaders are not honest in their communication with their workforce or keep information from their team and lack clarity of purpose. When not aligned with values, they resort to blaming others and do not take responsibility for their decisions or actions.
- Know-it-all attitude. This leadership blind spot makes leaders unaware of their own existing biases. Such leaders are mostly self boasting, and they are often too proud of their achievements. People who believe they are self-made or who worked their way up often are susceptible to this leadership blind spot. This could manifest in ignoring other perspectives, and a need to be right in everything. They do not admit to their shortcomings and tend to believe they are the only ones with a knower-status.
How to turn them into strengths
Blind spots increase the disconnect and dissonance with people you lead or manage. However, one can always manage such vulnerabilities through self-awareness, willingness to learn and change. The first step in turning them into your strengths is to be conscious of what you still have yet to learn or areas that need improvement. These can be beliefs you hold right now, your core values, or the way you go about making decisions. Here are some ways to do so.
Adopt to a learning mindset.
Leaders who possess learning mindset recognise the value of continuous improvement. They are conscious of what they are good at and acknowledging what they have to improve. Self-aware leaders are motivated towards knowing their blind spots and are focused on changing their existing way of going about doing things. Appearing all-knowing isn’t however going to be conducive to learning mindset.
To expand your awareness, you need to be willing to ask yourself and others questions. Many might think asking for help or asking questions, they will appear weak or indecisive. But being closed doesn’t make you adaptable to new perspectives and changes. Showing people that you don’t have all the answers and taking responsibility when things go wrong can create a learning culture for yourself as well as others.
Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other.— J.F.Kennedy
Embrace constructive feedback.
One of the most effective way to seeing into your blind spot in leadership is through from others’ perspective. When you get stuck in singular perspective, we react to feedback either by defending our actions or go into a denial mode. This will only make you more biased towards yourself. But when you consider it constructively, you can confront your own self-serving bias. This allows you to make adjustments, shift your perspective and deepens your relationships.
Feedback is a helpful tool. But at the same time, one can’t rely constantly upon others to point out your weaknesses all the time. Ultimately, it however is your own responsibility to work through your blind spots and stay aware of them. You cannot blame someone else for falling short at something because of your leadership blind spots. When you are open to receiving feedback, it becomes a good resource to identify the gaps and figure out where you fall short in becoming a better version of yourself.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve.”— Bill gates
Collaborate and seek different perspectives
To be effective, it is important to do away with going it all alone. Encouraging a collaborative culture and developing a trusting mindset helps you put a support structure in place to achieve goals. There is no added value to toughing it out or going it all alone. It is appropriate at times to seek guidance from those who will help you gain greater insights.
When faced with a challenge, seeking advice only from few people may not help as much as involving people with varied experience and perspectives. Broadening your scope of how you are informed can help you identify your leadership blind spots or what is holding you back.
Aim for Improvement not perfection.
When experiencing your own blind spots, it is worth investing time in analysing your own actions and thoughts in hindsight. If something didn’t go as you had expected, beating yourself up over what you did not see or missed out is not going to be helpful. Instead of aiming for perfection, begin taking the necessary steps to make the required change.
Everybody makes mistakes, including leaders. If you think you’ve messed up something, think about addressing it rather than avoiding. Even if it means admitting when you don’t have the answer and owning up to mistakes. Being honest inspires others to do the same and creates an environment of trust.
“The pursuit of perfection often impedes improvement.”George Will
Work on your biases
There are gaps in what we think we know and how others perceive it. When facing a decision, we often rely on cognitive biases that bypass conscious deliberate thinking. We make decisions based on our beliefs that we develop as a result of the available information. Sometimes, instead of changing our beliefs, we change our interpretation of the information to fit our beliefs. This leads to confirmation bias and leads to missing the important information that you need to make an effective decision.
To overcome this, question your existing beliefs, as to why might your beliefs stand correct, or what are the reasons why someone could disagree with yours or have a different belief, and why they might be right. This encourages you to discover what you do and don’t know and can prepare you to overcome your existing blind spot.
Clarity of purpose
Having clarity of purpose is important to set your priorities right. However, sometimes leaders believe that others understand their thinking, their purpose or how they go about deciding. This illusion of transparency creates leadership blind spot where they do not care to explain their actions to others in an assumption that everyone understands what they are doing. Communicating your goals, priorities and desired outcomes ensures everyone understanding the context or the rationale behind their decisions.
So as a leader,
How do you find ways to see what you can’t see?
What are your knows and known unknowns?
How would you rate your level of self-awareness?
Are you someone who believes in know-it-all or do you believe in continuous improvement?
Do you believe in giving and receiving feedback from your peers or subordinates?
Do you delegate or micromanage your work?
How much do you appreciate others’ efforts or recognise others’ contribution in your success?
How many times have you considered an idea or a view opposite to yours?
To lead effectively, it is important recognise your own blind spots and take control of them. By discovering and resolving them, you become empowered to make new choices, choices that didn’t show up prior to that moment. However, much like any other skill, this too needs practice and patience. Acknowledging your biases and turning them into strengths requires personal effort. As you continue to look into your limited perspectives and when you are willing to question them, you can come up with your own ways to turn them into strengths.
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