Picture yourself with a blindfold on and then attempting to drive a car (bad idea and also illegal!), walk your dog, or throw a Frisbee. It’s hard to picture anything but problems emerging. The same is true for those who lead but with the inability to see what they should be able to. This results in leading blind, and the outcomes can often be embarrassing at best, and at worst, damaging to ourselves and others.
Like cataracts in the eyes, blind spots often emerge slowly. Sometimes you cannot even tell they are developing until they are fully formed, and by then your sight is limited. Think about the lives of King Saul, leader of Israel, and David, one of his top guys. Saul started his leadership as someone who was known for being humble and valiant. But over time, as David became more successful and popular, Saul became jealous, fearful and controlling. The blind spots had formed and hardened, and now were hard to correct. And to point them out to a paranoid king could result in a shorter life expectancy! (More about this drama can be found in the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel, especially chapters 17-18).
4 Signs of a Blind Spot
Here are four of the most telling signs of blind spots.
1. People are talking about you but not to you.
“Wow, Bill sure does have bad breath.” “Is it me or does Helen dress like it’s 1960.” “Ever notice how Richard gets really angry when someone challenges him?” When people are talking about some of our behaviors that are awkward, embarrassing, or even damaging, that is a sure sign of a blind spot. Most people talk about someone rather than to them because it is easier. Pointing out a blind spot can lead to uncomfortable conversations and even damaged relationships.
2. You have a view of yourself that does not match the majority, but you do not know it.
For example, we have seen many times when an employee believes they are doing not only a good job, but an exceptional one, yet those around them are feeling the opposite. How is that possible? We are all experts at painting a picture of how we see ourselves and then believing that picture is the real thing. But if we could hang that picture next to the ones others would paint of us, they might be very different. Those differences are often our blind spots.
3. You have just enough people that tell you what you need to hear to feel good about yourself.
A well-known leader was recently called out for inappropriate relationships with women who worked for him. The bad behavior was going on for years. And while some of this behavior may have been invisible to others, some of it was very visible, and yet few called him out. It doesn’t take many people around a king telling him that he is great, normal, and irreplaceable for him to actually believe it is true. This situation perpetuates blind spots.
4. Due to loyalty, those closest to you overlook or no longer even see your blind spot.
This is why spouses and those closest to us are sometimes the worst at unveiling any shortcomings or embarrassing quirks in our lives. Sometimes, they have been around us so long that they no longer even see them. More often, they don’t want to hurt our feelings or run the risk of damaging the relationship. While we all say we are open to and welcome feedback, do we really want someone pointing out things like our quirky fear of germs, “unique” style of dress, poor hygiene, or inadequate work ethic?
5 Ways to Manage Blind Spots
So what can a leader do to manage his or her blind spots? Here are 5 of the best ways to identify and work on your blind spots.
1. Stop living in fantasy land and face it.
Everyone has blind spots including you and me. To ignore this is just further evidence that you have them! Having blind spots exposed can be a bit intimidating. But is the alternative any better? Do you really want people talking about you rather than to you?
2. Ask for input.
A simple question to a few people who know you well such as, “What am I doing that I am not aware of but should be?” or “What are the themes of things that people are saying about me rather than to me?”
3. Use tools.
A professionally-designed and anonymous 360 assessment where others give you feedback that is then compared to your self-perception is an excellent way to grow, especially with the help of a skilled coach to guide you. Even a high-quality personality assessment can provide entry into a conversation about blind spots.
4. Focus on the important.
Not everything we are oblivious to in our lives is necessary to fix. Focus your energy and attention on those one or two blind spots that may be causing you to lose leadership credibility.
5. Remember that you are not alone.
Every person who can see the gaps in your life also has gaps in their lives that they cannot see. But that is not the issue. We need to first focus on our own blind spots and seek to manage them in such a way as to become a healthier and more effective leader.
Jay Desko is the Executive Director of The Center Consulting Group and serves on the Senior Leadership Team at Calvary Church in Souderton, PA. Jay brings experience in the areas of organizational assessment, leadership coaching, decision-making, and strategic questioning. Jay’s degrees include an M.Ed. in Instructional Systems Design from Pennsylvania State University and a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior and Leadership from The Union Institute.