Developing Leaders – Building Teams

Your leadership “blind spots” – important to “see them”

I had my new car for only 2 months before it happened…. that dreaded first dent.

I backed into a tree while exiting a parking lot in a field. I did this in my new state-of-the-art, technology-enabled car designed to help me “see” my blind spots. Of course the tree was unblemished and the cost to repair my bumper and sensor systems exceeded my deductable. Ugh… I had a hard time not laughing while telling my story to the gal at the insurance company.

Helping drivers “see” these blind spots is one of the most significant safety advances in modern cars these days. My lack of focus cost me hard cash. Luckily no one was hurt.

As leaders, we also have blind spots. Where are they and why should we care?

If you are interested in learning more about your blind spots and how this knowledge can improve your leadership – read on!

One interesting way to help gain self awareness was developed in 1955 by two American psychologists, Joseph Luft and Harry Ingham. They crafted a simple grid called the “Johari” window that defines self awareness along two axes: what is known/unknown by us and what is known/unknown by others. The four panes specifically are:

  • what others and you both know
  • what is known by you and unknown by others
  • what others and you both do not know
  • what is known by others and unknown by you (i.e. blind spots).

If you draw this diagram (or google it) it might make more sense to you.

The most interesting pane in this window is the “blind spot” – what others know about you that would benefit you greatly if only you knew.

In our daily lives, we have a pretty good feel for what we “know” and maneuver our behaviors around that knowledge. Unfortunately what is not routinely on our radar screen are the insights from our blind spots. We only get those insights if we seek them out or pay attention to them when they come our way unsolicited.

I have seen great leaders who were well engaged with the insights from their blind spots, who created enjoyable, meaningful places to work. I have also known leaders plagued by ignoring what is inside these blind spots. Many were very good who could have been great leaders had they only invested in discovering their blind spots and acting on the credible insights they found. Egos got in the way of some, others never thought about it, and still others simply did not care. The sad truth is most of us suffer from the disconnect we have between what we think of ourselves and what others think of us. What is the “real” cost to an organization when these disconnects prevail across the enterprise?

We all could be so much more effective in leading people if we were able to harvest – and act on – the feedback from these blind spots. And the real challenge is that people skills become much more pronounced as one goes higher in the chain of command, hence the real need for senior leaders to grasp this concept.

How often have you wished for the opportunity to share with your boss a keen insight that could benefit his or her dealings with you? As a manager or supervisor, how often have you sought feedback or ignored unsolicited feedback from your blind spots?

I remember the exposing of a significant blind spot in my own life – a discovery achieved through unsolicited feedback from those who worked for me. I was an Army Major serving in Germany, undergoing a monumental transformation of our organization. It was not until I was departing the unit that my people “farewelled” me with a hat embroidered with the word “THINKING.” The gift came with an explanation of my blind spot – that others never knew “what” I was thinking when they were briefing me. I did not believe I had a problem. But my lack of verbal feedback while quietly processing the information, showed me I did.

Wow – an enlightening day for me!

Since that “revelation” I committed myself to fixing that problem – a work in progress for sure. I learned from this experience that while we may be able to deny our problems to ourselves, they remain obvious to those working with us.

I also learned the value of setting my ego aside and seeking genuine feedback, being able to accept criticism gracefully, and then take appropriate action to address the challenges. It was not always easy. I am constantly seeking how to grow as a leader. I reflect on how could I have been more effective in the Army, or while working at Georgia Regents University.

Discovering those insights in your blind spots can be a start – or a continued step – in your leadership journey. I certainly am paying more attention to my car’s messages!

I wish you the best!