How to manage your leadership blind spots

I was recently reminded of the importance of the 360 interviews that I conduct with my client‘s stakeholders that is the boss, peers and subordinates. As part of the coaching process with my clients I offer to interview their stakeholders on a confidential basis, to get some opinions on how my client interacts with them.

The Reason? Coaching is all about change: Either something in your behavior or your management style is preventing you from progressing or assuming more responsibilities, yet you’ve done OK till now. You are not seeing the results you seek hence the reason I am coaching you. After we agree on some objectives and the change you seek, we explore together how to adopt and embrace this change.

Pretty simple concept, right? It gets a little more complicated when I identify a discrepancy between how YOU see yourself and how your stakeholders see you.

Let me give you an example. A while back I was working with John a senior manager that wanted to improve some areas but my intuition also told me he had to improve his planning skills.

When I probed him about this he assured me that this was not a problem – in fact he had received project management training.

When I met his stakeholders, the majority of them told me that John’s project management skills were ‘a disaster’ and they were getting him in trouble at times; the ‘wheels would fall off the cart’ days before the project was supposed to be finished.

What happened? This is called a blind spot.

Similar to driving a car, when someone is passing you he/she will ultimately cross the blind spot or the area that you can no longer see his car in your rear-view mirror, hence the importance to shoulder check and look before to change lanes.

To use Tennis or Golf as another example perhaps you want to improve your swing? Recently my Golf coach told me: Paul you’re lifting your left heel on your back swing. How could I possibly see my left heel when I’m swinging the club? Lifting my heel affects my ability to hit the ball properly hence my performance – It’s the same in business.

In your career there may be times where you feel that things are not moving in the right direction or fast enough. Perhaps you developed a few blind posts that you can’t see – like the left heel in my backswing. This is where getting feedback from your peers is important.

Feedback from stakeholders according to Marshall Goldsmith an expert in Coaching and Leadership, is critical and ‘If we’re lucky every once in a while, something or someone comes along who opens our eyes to your faults – and helps us strip away a delusion or two about ourselves.

He also adds:

  1. It is a whole lot easier to see our problems in others than it is to see them in ourselves.
  2. Even though we may be able to deny our problems ourselves they may be very obvious to the people who are observing us.’

Your blind spots, also called self-deception can be fixed.

Here are few ways:

  1. Accept! We all have blind spots–you’re no exception. The sooner you accept you have blind spots the faster you can address them.
  2. Step back and observe. Be honest with yourself. When you’re fully engaged in resolving an issue it’s more likely that you could potentially be so involved in the issue at hand that you can’t possibly see your behavior.
  3. Ask for feedback from peers about something specific which you feel needs improvement. For example, ask your peers if they’ve noticed your listening skills; are you delegating enough or are you micro managing your staff? Are you able to remain calm during difficult moments? By being open to this kind of feedback your peers can help you to identify fundamental, much needed changes.
  4. Active Listening. Remember you have 2 ears and one mouth. Use accordingly. When receiving feedback, truly listen and value the opinions of your peers. Don’t defend your behavior. Don’t justify it and don’t explain it otherwise you’ll cancel any good intentions of getting feedback from a peer.
  5. Thank you. The last two words to say after getting feedback on your blind spots are:  Thank you !

Great leaders know that getting honest feedback from stakeholders about your blind spots is one way to develop your leadership skills. Great leaders also know they have to continuously improve and embrace change. How you’ve identified and acknowledged your blind spots and changed your behavior will not be based on what you think but rather how you are perceived by the real judges – your stakeholders.

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