Leadership blind spots are the specific areas where a leader…even a very successful leader…is missing something. A blind spot can be a lack of attention to a certain area or a part of your skill set that never really developed.
All leaders have blind spots. Why is this? Because success in certain leadership areas can obscure needed development in other areas. It’s a form of compensation. Our strengths in some areas can be leveraged to partially…but never completely…offset a weakness.
When a progressive leader discovers a blind spot, they have also discovered upside opportunity for themselves. It doesn’t matter whether you discover them yourself or if someone else points out a blind spot for you, acknowledging blind spots is always a positive thing.
It’s important to always remember that leadership is a verb. It is something you do. As leaders, we want to eliminate blind spots that will keep us from effectively leading our teams. Let’s discuss the three most common blind spots we see in leaders:
Forgetting About the “Why”
Sometimes leaders and managers get so caught up with targets and tactics that they can forget why their people are even coming to work. They knew it when they started in management… but over time even good leaders begin to forget that their goals, or the companies goals, are not the same their people’s goals.
Fact: every single person on your team has their own unique reasons for coming to work. This is their “Why”. Many leaders are completely out of touch with this truth. Some have never even considered it. This can be a high blind spot for a leader. If you are serious about driving high performance through your organization, you will need to the hard work of getting in touch with everyone’s “Why”.
Not Grasping the Importance of Straight Talk
As leaders move up the ranks, they tend to be more data-driven and they begin to spend more and more time in meetings with people other than those they are leading. Here’s what happens next: they begin to spend more time talking about their people than they do talking to their people. This blind spot will often appear when a leader has moved way up the org chart. Some leaders will even begin to actively avoid uncomfortable conversations with the people they are responsible to.
People deserve straight talk from their leaders. Clear, direct and understandable communication should be your objective…especially when the topic is sensitive or when it directly affects the person you are talking to. Avoid business rhetoric and management buzzwords. You should use the exact same level of candor and transparency that you would appreciate from one of your superiors. Your leadership authenticity and influence will benefit from this kind of no fluff, no BS communication.
Not Understanding the Distinction Between Can’t & Won’t
This may be the most important distinction you will ever learn as a leader. Leaders and managers who never learn to discern between Can’t and Won’t situations will have a career of frustration and confusion. In our workshops, we go so far as to say that if this distinction is all you know as a manager, you will still be more effective in your role than 50% of all leaders. Understanding the seemingly simple distinction between the two is the key to making good personnel decisions as a leader. Here are the simple definitions:
Can’t – They just don’t know how to do it. It’s a capability issue.
Won’t – They refuse to do it, either passively or actively. It’s a motivational issue.
Leaders can create serious issues for themselves when they misdiagnose a situation and treat a Can’t like a Won’t… or vice versa. It prevents them from coaching and managing people successfully. It’s a blind spot that some leaders carry through their whole careers.
Figuring out exactly where a performance issue is rooted is crucial to successful leadership. When you start with an accurate assessment of whether a personnel issue is a Can’t or a Won’t, you are going to make the right decision about how to respond to the situation. It’s Leadership 101… look at the roots, not the fruit.
So those are the three leadership blind spots we see most often in experienced leaders and managers. Think about your own leadership and see if any of them apply to you. Here’s some good news: once a leader is able to identify a blind spot, they are well on their way to correcting it. The biggest challenge really is just being able to see and acknowledging the blind spot.
Final word: blind spots keep a leader from having the leverage and influence they should. Be sensitive to them…work on them…and you can put them in in the rearview mirror where they belong.