Many leaders experience setbacks—or even failures. Perhaps they feel like their influence is waning. Their ideas aren’t translating, or their teams aren’t producing at the right level. These leaders might be doing all the right things, but their effectiveness seems diluted.
Ever had that feeling? If so, the problem could be leadership blind spots. These occur when there’s a disconnect between our intentions and our impact. Sometimes there are subtleties in our leadership styles that work against us, but we are strangely immune to the problems. We simply can’t see the negative repercussions.
As the name implies, it’s tough to recognize our own blind spots but we can quickly identify them in our co-workers. Think about the leaders who tend to misjudge some of their own attributes and capabilities. There’s a fine line between confident and callous. Between meticulous and micro-managing. Between innovative and reckless.
If your roadblock might be leadership blind spots, here are four things you need to know.
1. Feedback is essential to identify your leadership blind spots.
We’re all susceptible to blind spots, but we can’t manage them unless we know they exist. The only way to do that is by getting feedback from the people around us. We need to measure the gap between our intentions and their experiences.
The key is to achieve a genuine understanding of our own strengths and weaknesses. Are we aware of how our emotions impact our decisions and actions? Do we intentionally seek alternative perspectives or rely on our own wisdom and opinions? Do we know how to relate to others despite differences in cultural backgrounds, intellect, and confidence levels? Can we adjust our behavior in the moment to better influence and engage? The only way to know these things for sure is by asking people we trust.
2. Blind spots are often linked to common leadership challenges.
While there are a wide range of these, I’ll provide you with examples in three areas. Blind spots can emerge when people over-emphasize strengths that have served them well in the past—traits that have even earned them recognition. Passionate becomes overzealous. Decisive turns into abrupt. Think of it as “too much of a good thing” syndrome.
In some instances, experienced leaders may be entrenched in the approaches that served them in the past. While those approaches were once effective, they may no longer work in a more dynamic, desperate, and unpredictable world. Blind spots are likely to occur when leaders aren’t flexible or willing to evolve.
Other times, blind spots may result from making false assumptions. Instead of confronting problems, they might assume poor performers will improve on their own. And when it comes to talent acquisition, some may assume it’s optimal to hire domain experts rather than adding professionals with diverse perspectives and unconventional thinking.
Another challenge that produces blind spots is a leader’s failure to shift focus when they change roles. That’s a frequent culprit as individual contributors move into a leadership capacity, with the temptation to continue being a “doer” rather than a “driver.” In these cases, they may be consumed by daily business tactics versus thinking more strategically. This blind spot will persist until they learn to delegate efficiently and make decisions from a broader business angle.
3. Leadership blind spots aren’t necessarily all negative.
Our direct reports, colleagues, and clients might consider some of our attributes as enormous assets, while we never give them a second thought. Undervaluing our worth is also a leadership blind spot. If we don’t recognize and leverage hidden skills and talents, we’re not taking full advantage of our potential.
4. Managing leadership blind spots requires targeted development.
We can create a development plan that minimizes leadership blind spots by following some specific steps: improving our self-awareness, understanding our own temperament and tendencies, and recognizing how we respond to the common challenges faced by new and experienced leaders. Identifying any potential problems gives us the information we need to make positive changes.
Here’s the good news. Managing our blind spots doesn’t typically require a complete overhaul of our leadership styles. Sometimes even subtle adjustments in our behaviors and attitudes can completely transform our ability to lead, influence, and drive change.
If you sense that your leadership impact isn’t optimal, consider whether leadership blind spots could be to blame. Ask others to give you feedback, and make that an ongoing part of your leadership evolution. I guarantee it’s one of the most powerful ways to expand your impact as a leader.
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