How Successful Leaders Overcome Their Blindspots

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In a coaching masterclass this week, one participant asked “how do I coach a difficult direct report that has the capability but just not stepping up?”

How often do you hear leaders attribute a team as difficult?  Or perhaps you have a few difficult team members to handle currently?  

Here is a shocking statistic. According to a study, doctors were found to be 42% more likely to misdiagnose a "difficult" patient than a "neutral" one in a complex case.

There're certainly energy vampires and joy suckers in the workplace.  There're difficult situations of wrong fit for the role and actions beyond performance management & coaching must be taken.  However, how much of the "difficult" situation was caused by the staff? And how much was actually contributed by the leader's own biases, assumptions, weaknesses and blind spots?  

Perhaps the leader:

  • has too many priorities that overwhelm and confuse the team
  • does a bad job at communicating the why
  • didn't give the team the context required to make effective decisions
  • fails to balance the what with the how
  • focuses only on short-term organizational metrics
  • not investing the time to support the individual career goals 
  • avoids tough conversations and sending mixed messages on performance expectations
  • overestimates the leader's own capability to handle new challenges based on past success
  • clings to the status quo as that's how things have always been done here
  • favors staff who supports the status quo and share the same view
  • mistakes their own opinion as fact
  • fails to build trust

We all have blind spots.  However, being in the supervisor position could give leaders the power to blame their staff rather than reflect on their own behaviour or weakness when things went wrong.  And leaders don't always get the honest feedback about the impact of their behaviours from their team, for fear of repercussion.  Without intentional reflection time, biases stir their thinking and blind spots left unchecked.  They are unaware of their contribution to the team performance issue. They fail to develop the performance & potential of their team because they fail to develop themselves as a leader.

Leaders work with Executive Coach for this very reason: to help them uncover their blind spots and grow their effectiveness as a leader.

However, there are also practical actions you can take to overcome your blind spots:

  1. Broaden your interaction beyond the internal management team.  Spend more time with your employees (including skip levels), your customers, your external partners.
  2. Coach more!  As I shared in the last newsletter, you can make a difference in this aspect by simply ask more, tell less.   
  3. Seek feedback.  In your regular 1:1 with your directs, you're likely to discuss "what's going well", "what could be better".  What about adding two more questions (see, ask more, tell less): "how can I help?", "what suggestions do you have for me?"
  4. Initiate a 360 feedback assessment
  5. Schedule daily reflection time

Being in a leadership position is a responsibility and a privilege.  What you do have direct impact on the professional success and well-being of your people.  When you demonstrate the courage, humility and discipline to be a better leader each day, you inspire your people to be better, to go the extra mile, to perform better, and ultimately, to deliver much stronger results as a team.