Those Formidable Blind Spots

By | September 6, 2020

[September 6, 2020]  There is not a person I know that hasn’t been surprised by something coming at them out of nowhere.  One day, you get up and run out the door to work and, while driving along minding your own business, a car sideswipes your new pickup truck. Indeed the car was in your blind spot, and you never saw it until it was too late.

I was at a meeting of volunteers that had assembled at one of our local community colleges to assist in the creation of a new STEM degree.  It was a great group of folks – leaders in their fields – from a variety of academic, commercial, and governmental organizations.  A friend of mine (also a college professor) and I were talking before the event when an older woman from the college approached us and asked if I were an Army General.

Yes,” I said, “but I’m now retired.”  She also asked if I had a college degree, to which I answered, “Yes, several.”  Then the surprise … she said that it was a shame that the United States spends so much money educating military officers just to send them off to war to get killed.  I was a bit taken aback but muttered something like, “the education we give them is so that they can best save lives on the battlefield.”  She was taking none of this in, and she stalked off.  She had fixated on the interrelationship of war, education, and money.  It was a blind spot for her.

All of us have blind spots that we should discover and correct.  The way to do this is with careful introspection and remaining alert to avoid them.  Also, we, as leaders, are obligated to notice such things in others so that we, too, are vulnerable to those same blind spots.

The first military blind spot I recall was with my Infantry company commander.  I had been assigned only a few weeks when I noticed him reprimanding men in my platoon that their haircuts and shaving habits did not meet military standards.  That was true enough.  But his haircut and out-of-regulation mustache were also in violation of those same standards.

Later one of my blind spots about military education was pointed out to me during a peer-review 360-degree feedback process called the Multi-Source Assessment and Feeback system.  I was not emphasizing military education sufficiently.  I was quick to correct my oversight and became known as the “colonel with education on his shoulder.”

Other blind spots we can find in the military (and elsewhere), even among some of the best officers, are:

  1. Critical remarks about others, even in a joking manner, have a way of finding their way back home. This one is common and violates the fundamental principle of loyalty.
  2. The tendency to seek staff positions over troop assignments. The desire to prefer such staff positions leads to distancing oneself from soldiers and losing touch with their perspectives.
  3. A view that some officers are too old or too young for combat positions. This distorts the experience angle – for good or bad – and shows preference to discriminate unfairly and unjustly.
  4. Being overweight, consume alcohol or drugs, and talk too much is often viewed with disfavor. Those who are overweight are fatter than they think, alcohol drinkers whose alcoholic content is more evident than they realize, and compulsive talkers who would seem smarter if they said less.

It is the duty of military superiors to call attention to the blind spots of their juniors for correction.  We also have a personal obligation to ourselves to discover our own blind spots.


Note:  Portions of this article is based on Maj Gen Aubrey “Red” Newman, USA (Ret) book “What Are Generals Made of?”

Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article every day on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

15 thoughts on “Those Formidable Blind Spots

  1. Doc Blackshear

    Blind spots aren’t necessarily negative traits or weaknesses, though they usually are. When you are oblivious to something, there is a high likelihood that (1) you have never worked on it before, which leaves an opportunity for improvement, and (2) it serves as an invisible boundary that limits what you can do.

    1. Greg Heyman

      Over the years, I’ve uncovered many blind spots and worked on them. So, yes, I agree Doc that there are many and we will be a better person but it takes effort.

      1. Doc Blackshear

        Greg, thanks for the reply. This topic should be early in our educational system but it is not. In fact, I believe we are ENCOURAGED to have blind spots and that they are a feature, not a bad thing about us. So, expect more bad behavior like we see in the Democratically run cities in the US. Rioting, looting, murder, arson, are all justified as doing “good for humankind” and getting rid of “systemic racism.” The problem is that the so-called protestors are actually the real racists.

      2. Jerome Smith

        More than effort, it takes others helping us as in any human endeavor.

  2. Fred Weber

    Once again, an enjoyable article – hidden on an early Sunday morning – keep up the great works with this type of great info on Prof Development. It was worth getting up early to read it.

  3. Yusaf from Texas

    Getting a personal coach is an excellent way to uncover your own blind spots so that you can improve.

    1. Willie Shrumburger

      Not all of us can afford or even find a personal coach so I agree this can work but a more practical method is to talk with a good friend who has the courage to tell you things you might not want to hear.

  4. Wendy Holmes

    Why is it important to know your blind spots? Because it is a necessary part of your personal growth. Blind spots are things that you are unaware of. Identifying our blind spots and understanding them heighten our self-awareness = self awareness. ?

  5. Max Foster

    Blind spots (defined in the context of personal development) refers to the aspects of ourselves we aren’t fully conscious of. This can refer to a broad spectrum of different things — our traits, values, actions, idiosyncrasies, habits, feelings, thoughts, etc.

    1. Harry Donner

      Right, and besides our beliefs and attitudes, blind spots also include our physiological behaviors.

  6. Forrest Gump

    Thank you Gen. Satterfield for identifying a hidden problem we all walk around with.

  7. KenFBrown

    Very powerful arguments for watching for our own “blind spots”. I would say that this might just be more important than most of us think. If you want to see some real blind spots, just take a look at our college students today who have little (uh, NO BACKGROUND) in the history of our country.

    1. JT Patterson

      Excellent point Ken. I agree that we all have blind spots but some of us more than others have them. Leadership is helping ourselves and others in identifying them and then doing something about them. It’s not easy. In fact, its very very very hard.

    2. Lynn Pitts

      The hardest part is admitting we have them and the second hardest part is identifying them. Then, of course, the third most hard part is doing something about it. Kind of like alcoholism.

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