Avoiding Leadership Blind Spots 0

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This article is a part of the All Things Talent Magazine (July 2018 Edition) – An Initiative By iimjobs.com | hirist.com

“Behind every great leader, at the base of every great tale of success, there will be an indispensable circle of trusted advisors, mentors, and colleagues.”

Michelle M. Smith, CPIM, CRP

With fewer peers and more power, it’s easy for leaders to lose touch with those they lead. A study by Hay Group’s McClelland Centre finds that senior leaders in an organization often gain power at the expense of self-knowledge, and are more likely to overrate themselves in self-awareness, self-management and social skills.

Regardless of leaders’ numerous talents and successes, these are troubling blind spots that can significantly hinder their effectiveness as leaders. Even if leaders know a lot about their work and their industry, they need to be cognizant that things aren’t always as rosy as they may think and they’d benefit significantly from getting and maintaining as clear a picture as possible of their job performance.

“A study by  McClelland Centre finds that senior leaders in an organization often gain power at the expense of self-knowledge, and are more likely to overrate themselves in self-awareness, self-management and social skills.”

Now, how does one identify these blind spots? According to Robert Bruce Shaw, author of Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter, there are four blind spots that frequently plague leaders.

1. Strategic thinking:

Many leaders are better at managing operations than thinking strategically. Leaders who overestimate their strategic capabilities can face serious problems when they are promoted to senior-level roles. These roles put a premium on identifying and acting on new growth opportunities.

2. All-knowing:

Some leaders think they know more than everybody else about everything. Executives in this category don’t seriously consider others’ points of view, and they often prefer being right to being effective. Not only are they not always correct, they also distance themselves from their brain trust and make it harder to explore challenges and potential pitfalls.

3. Assumption:

Many executives make the mistake of assuming that other people are just like them, which means they are motivated by similar things, think similarly, and would agree with the leader’s decisions. As preposterous as this may sound, many leaders assume others see things as they do. This propensity for assumption can lead to poor decisions and weak work relationships.

4. Stuck-in-the-past:

Oftentimes, leaders assume that their past experiences can help them fix new problems. While this may be true at times, leaders frequently default to old methods that don’t fit the current situation.

“Leaders need to be cognizant that things aren’t always as rosy as they may think and they’d benefit significantly from getting and maintaining as clear a picture as possible of their job performance.”

So now, how can leaders see past their blind spots to ensure that they aren’t misled about their performance and, more importantly, do not fail to provide the kind of objective, supportive and collaborative leadership that their employees want? Shaw suggests these three strategies:

1. Build a good team:

Build a diverse team of smart people who are willing to candidly engage with you and each other in productive talks and debates about the best path forward.

My thoughts: Behind every great leader, at the base of every great tale of success, you’ll find an indispensable circle of trusted advisors, mentors, and colleagues. These relationships are, quite literally, why some leaders succeed far more than others.

Leaders need healthy conflict and differing perspectives to dig out the truth from group-think. In this era of constant disruptive change, we all need to get better at disrupting ourselves, failing forward and seeing what no one else does.

2. Assess yourself from time to time:

Use 360-degree surveys, skip-level interviews or similar feedback mechanisms that point out areas of potential weakness.

My thoughts: Keep learning. Only 50 percent of employees surveyed felt their leadership teams were doing a good or great job, and 23 percent described leaders’ performance as poor or very poor. Problems cited with corporate leaders included insufficient communication, unrealistic workloads, and a lack of training and employee development.

Humility may be a virtue, but it’s also a competitive advantage. According to research from the University Of Washington Foster School Of Business, humble people are more likely to be high performers in individual and team settings and they also tend to make the most effective leaders. Yet the attribute of humility seems to be neglected in leadership development programs and it’s often misunderstood. The research team defined humility as a three-part personality trait consisting of an accurate view of the self, teachability, and appreciation of others’ strengths.

“In this era of constant disruptive change, we all need to get better at disrupting ourselves, failing forward and seeing what no one else does.”

3. Install a warning system:

Have at least one person who can offer you feedback that prevents you from being blindsided.

My thoughts: Brain science has proven that when we’re presented with information that threatens us or our situation, our unconscious brain proceeds to distort our reality, filling in the blanks with evidence designed to reduce the threat and make us feel better. That programming is even stronger when it comes to protecting our beliefs about our businesses and ourselves in times of threat or opportunity, and leaders have to constantly act to avoid the downside of this innate response.

Additionally, two of the best predictors of job performance are intelligence and conscientiousness, and humility predicted performance better than both.

“Employees don’t expect perfection from their leaders. However, they do expect leaders to be self-aware and to proactively take steps to minimize their blind spots.”

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Michelle Smith is an internationally acclaimed speaker, author & strategist on employee engagement, leadership, corporate culture & motivation. Named as one of the Ten Best and Brightest Women in the incentive industry and to the Employee Engagement Power 100 list, Michelle is a Change Maker, Top-Idea Maven, and President's Award winner. She speaks and writes about what she knows first-hand as a former leader of a Fortune 100 global conglomerate, a Silicon Valley start-up, and as a researcher and strategist.

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