To be a successful leader or entrepreneur, we need to become intimate not only with our strengths but also with our blind spots, those aspects of our personality that can derail us. John C. Maxwell defines a blind spot as "an area in the lives of people in which they continually do not see themselves or their situation realistically."
All of us have blind spots. A Hay Group study shows that the senior leaders in an organization are more likely to overrate themselves and to develop blind spots that can hinder their effectiveness as leaders. Another study by Development Dimensions International Inc. found that 89 percent of front-line leaders have at least one blind spot in their leadership skills.
When we're in a leadership position, our blind spots can cause a great deal of damage, not only to our career but to the people who depend on us. How can you avoid this potential pitfall for yourself and your business? These eight tips can help.
1. Raise your awareness of the top blind spots. This Executive White Paper shows the 10 blind spots that are most risky to personal and organizational success. The top three are: under-communicating strategic direction and priorities, poorly communicating expectations, and waiting for poor performance to improve.
Leaders are often surprised when stakeholders complain that there isn't enough communication about the business's vision and strategy. There is a communication gap between what leaders think is enough and what stakeholders need. Communication also extends to one-on-one leadership conversations. Leaders often fail to see the harm that is done to the organization when they consistently avoid having the difficult conversation with a non-performer, hoping the issue will resolve itself.
2. Don't hire in your own image. In the Top Ten Mistakes that Entrepreneurs Make, Guy Kawasaki includes one of the most pervasive blind spots that leaders often have: Hiring people who are like them instead of hiring individuals who have complementary skills. Hiring people who are similar results in organizational weaknesses. As Kawasaki puts it, "You need to balance off all the talents in a company."
3. Establish a peer coaching arrangement. Every leader can benefit from peer coaching with leaders in other organizations. As a business owner, consider peer coaching with a noncompeting business that's the same size. In Five Ways To Find Out What You're Doing Wrong, Les McKeown says, "Most organizational blind spots are size-related, not industry-specific. In other words, your blind spots will have more in common with other businesses of a similar size and age than they will with other businesses in the same industry."
4. Examine your past history. To gain insight into behaviors that may not serve you well, think back on your past successes and failures as a leader. This kind of introspective inventory can yield some powerful insights. What do you need to stop doing? What do you need to do more of? What do you need to start doing?
5. Understand your habits. Blind spots are not necessarily weaknesses—they can also be habits or instinctive reactions to situations. For example, do your workload and stress cause you to interrupt people in meetings in order to speed up things? As Tom Peters shows in this video, most managers are 18-second listeners. If this describes you, work on developing more patience. It will enhance your interpersonal skills and improve your leadership effectiveness.
6. Place a high priority on relational skills. In Winning With People: Discover The People Principles That Work For You Every Time, John C. Maxwell states a simple, but powerful truth: People can usually trace their successes and failures to relationships in their lives. Every time something good or something difficult has happened to you, you can most likely point it back to some relationship you had. Studies show that only 15 percent of a person's success is determined by job knowledge and technical skills, and 85 percent is determined by an individual's attitude and ability to relate to other people. As Maxwell observes, many leaders have big relational blind spots. For example, some individuals may come across as arrogant, stomping on people in their quest to achieve results. They may not be aware of the need to curb their arrogance until it's too late. Others may not show much warmth and fail to pick up on the emotional clues that others give them. Make it a priority to develop healthy interpersonal skills.
7. Consider the downside of your strengths. It's a known fact that our gifts, taken to the extreme, can be liabilities. For example, one of your strengths might be that you are prudent in your decision-making. But what you view as caution, taken to the extreme, might result in fear of risk taking. In the long run, this can work against you. You may pride yourself in being a visionary, but taken to the extreme, you may bounce off in too many directions, frustrating others on the team by switching gears too often. List all your strengths, and reflect on how they manifest themselves in your leadership style. If you need help in this area, work with a mentor or coach. Consider asking your constituents for feedback. We rise as a leader when we have the courage to ask, "How are my actions affecting performance?"
8. Take an assessment to identify your blind spots. The Reiss Motivation Profile is a comprehensive, psychological assessment of what motivates us. It identifies 16 basic desires that will give you insight on why you do what you do and will help you identify your blind spots. For example, the desire for independence can end up being a blind spot when a leader refuses to admit that he can't do it all by himself. A quick, online assessment can be accessed at Find Your Blind Spot Now.