[October 25, 2016] My great uncle owned and operated an animal feed store in Arkansas until the early 1960s when his business failed; which he blamed on racial integration of blacks. His racism was a serious blind spot because it deprived him of potential customers. Blind spots for leaders can also have disastrous consequences. But what are typical leader blind spots and can they be effectively overcome?
Of course, the biggest concern for any leader is recognizing that they might have a blind spot. We all do, of course, but the trick is finding them and doing something to fix those that cause us problems. It can be due to our business philosophy, political ideology, mental rigidity, or simple laziness. It’s a weakness of leaders to fail to always be on the lookout for blind sports and to acknowledge they are extremely hard to search out and conquer.
When I began discussing leader blind spots with other senior leaders, the first thing I discovered was that most of us shared several in common. Perhaps it was our many years of leader experience at lower levels within the organization which made a habit out of behaviors that worked well at the time but not necessarily at higher levels.
For example, many leaders I know are great at the tactical level of things but fail to advance to the strategic level of leadership. In the military we call it “operationalizing” problems and those who use doctrinal military solutions are successful. Yet when we move up to senior leadership positions, we should be thinking further ahead, more broadly, and more creatively. There are now junior leaders in the organization that can take care of the tactical details; we should be developing our strategic vision and advancing decision-making capabilities in complex, volatile, and uncertain environments.
Another commonly shared senior leader blind spot is intellectual laziness that allows us to fail. We may unknowingly make flawed assumptions (e.g., others think like us), think that past practices and procedures will always work in the future, place excessive emphasis on results, or are insensitive to our behavior on others. This is where a personal, dispassionate mentor or trusted confidant comes in to help.
Identifying our own blind spots is hard. Part of the reason is that humans hate to admit we can be wrong. No one likes to hear about our faults and failures and leaders especially don’t like someone to point them out publically. Yet to grow intellectually and improve our leadership skills leaders must more open, flexible, and willing to learn about blind spots.
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