Six Common Leadership Blind Spots

By Margarete Dupere and Bob Hewes, PhD
February 19, 2019
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A core element of coaching is to shed light on a leader’s blind spots to bring insight they’ve not had previously. Qualitative and quantitative data create the foundation and skilled coaches build on that in a trusting, collaborative partnership.

Self-Awareness

This may seem both obvious and redundant to the notion of blind spots. A common development need we see across our coaching clients. The pitfall is when the leader’s incorrect self-perception is that of someone who is highly self-aware; who sees him/herself as operating with a high degree of emotional intelligence, and believes they understand how others perceive and experience them.

When the reality is that they are not particularly self-aware, it impacts how they manage themselves and their ability to discern what adjustments in style or approach may be needed in a given situation. Their motivation, and even their ability to change and grow as a leader, will be less if their self-perception is that they are an effective, empathic and self-aware person.

Practice strategy

  1. Get Data. New information generally brings insight. Best done by an objective, experienced third party and through valid methods that measure the behavior, style or preference that you are curious about.
  2. Seek Feedback. Solicit input from trusted colleagues, constructive feedback from bosses and from your team and direct reports, conduct short debriefs after key meetings and interactions to learn from the perspective of others while it’s fresh.
  3. Practice Reflection. When an interaction did not result in your desired outcomes, ask yourself what you might have done differently, might a shift in mindset or style or approach have yielded a different outcome, “hold up the mirror.”

Communication and Presence

Leaders, particularly new and emerging leaders, can significantly underestimate the impact their communication (including lack thereof), style, and presence has on those around them.

Frequency and clarity are commonly underestimated. It’s not unusual to feel “I’m communicating constantly” or “I’ve said this a hundred times what don’t people get about this”; and for employees to simultaneously feel “I’m in the dark,” or “I’m not clear on our direction.” Absent information and communication, people fill the void, they make up stuff, and it’s not the good stuff.

Practice Strategy

  1. Work on your messaging and deliver it often, formally and informally. Preparation for regular communications forces us to get clear on the message, meaning, and strategic direction. A leader’s internal clarity, with consistent communications delivered in different ways, will help teams feel included and part of the plan. Engaging in a dialogue (town halls, small groups, skip level), checking for understanding, seeking input, is exponentially better.

Another blind spot is leaders’ understanding the impact of their presence, energy  mood, comments, style – it all gets amplified because you’re the boss. A simple example of that “reverb” is commonly experienced when a leader offers an idea, and it’s taken as a directive or a decision that needs be executed, when the intent was to open dialogue.

Practice Strategy

  1. Experiment and Observe. Make minor adjustments in tone and/or style, be mindful of “how you are showing up,” and what you are projecting intentionally and unintentionally. Remind yourself to have an open mindset or assume positive intent, and approach situations with renewed curiosity.

Decision-Making

Often times leaders will have spent considerable time making a decision. Then, in the roll out, they’ll forget that others in the organization don’t have the benefit of all that background and time. To avoid confusion, make “level setting” on a decision part of the effort. It shouldn’t be here is the decision, now just go do it.

Practice Strategy

  1. Build in good communication plans that include an opportunity for dialogue. This communication is not about revisiting the decision that has been made, but rather explaining it well and driving understanding.
  2. Be sure to include the business context. If your people understand the decision better, they’ll be able to execute more effectively and quickly, and understand how they fit in.

Big Picture Thinking

We probably expect most leaders to have the big picture on things, but not all leaders do. Frequently, as “working managers” we get stuck with our heads down. Leaders need to have clarity on the 20,000-foot view and it’s essential that they bring that to their people. Employees want to know the “why?” of things.

Practice Strategy

  1. Make sure you have command of the big picture for your business unit or function, have a good elevator speech prepared, for opportunities where you can integrate it in your communications.
  2. If you are not clear or believe the organization can do better at big picture communication, take the lead. Go get the information or work to have a role in creating it.

Delegation

Leaders must get work done through others, but it can take time to delegate and to learn how to do so. The best way to scale and have organizational impact is to leverage the collective resources of your team. Get really good at delegating and the process of delegating.

Practice Strategy

  1. Be smart about what you delegate and to whom; make good choices, provide direction (they can’t guess what’s in your head), offer timely feedback so your team can adjust approach or work product and learn what you are really looking for.
  2. Avoid micro-managing. Strike the right balance on giving direction and specifying the objective while giving them the room and the trust to complete the job.

Making change and increasing self-awareness requires being both participant and observer – practice small changes at first and notice the impact. Pay attention to what may positively shift in both relationships and results. Remember to stay true to who you are as a leader, be authentic, aligning your mindset and behavior with your intention.

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