Don’t Be Blinded: Seeing Opportunity in Blind Spots

It might be the fact that Mary jumps in to finish peoples’ sentences, or John has an incessant need to be right… Maybe David lacks follow-through or Sarah’s cutthroat mentality leaves her employees wounded. Blind spots. We all have them – those personality quirks (or full-on flaws) that are obvious to everyone but us. And, the truth is, when we discover them, they can be… well, blinding. It takes vulnerability to uncover them and courage to point them out to others.

In Fearless Leadership, Loretta Malandro says “most successful leaders are unaware of two things: (1) the impact of their blind spots on others and (2) the degree to which others work around them and avoid confronting the real issues.” Organizational potential gets strangled because of these blind spots.

And though the interpersonal outcomes of a leader’s blind spot can be weighty, the thing to remember is these behaviors are usually sub-conscious, resulting in unintended impacts. Where leaders do get into trouble is in:

  • Not getting curious about their blind spots
  • Ignoring them altogether
  • Thinking they are immune, and have none
  • Immediately dismissing feedback that highlights a potential blind spot.

Let’s get real… a blind spot isn’t a blind spot anymore if you know about it already but choose to ignore it… That’s just leadership carelessness. Even if the feedback shocks you beyond belief, take it as a cue to pause, take a deep breath, and look for the part that is true – even if it’s only 2%. The choice is yours. Once uncovered, a blind spot is information that can help you up your game – you can wallow in self-pity, or look for the opportunity (easier said than done, I know!). Just know you’re not alone. We all have them. And, if you think you don’t have any… think again. There’s your blind spot.

Some common leadership blind spots or pitfalls that I’ve come across (caveat: more often than not, these are not conscious, intended behaviors, but rather unconscious, unproductive habits):

  • Needing to be right: When you need to be right, someone needs to be wrong. This winner-loser mindset really is a no-win game.
  • Thinking you have all the answers: Being the go-to answer-guy is seductive, but the unintended impact of this blind spot is stifling others growth.
  • Quick to say No: Saying “No Way” or bringing a negative mindset to everything instead of exploring possibilities is a sure fire way of getting people to work around you. Let’s face it; no one likes a constant Debbie-Downer.
  • Not really listening: While you might be in the same room as someone, your mind wanders to other places or you re-direct the conversation back your way (a move I call the “Back To Me” (BTM)). The unintended impact? Others feel insignificant. (Read Mobilize Strategies great post on Listening).
  • Having an inflated sense of self: Leading from a place of ego leaves little to no room for learning. The impacts of this grandiose sense of self are that people may shut down and stop collaborating with you. Ego can break a team.
  • Being unaware of your impact: The mother-of-all blind spots, you’re either too “busy” to notice, unable to read others, or just don’t care how you’re impacting your colleagues. This blind spot leaves others thinking you’re cavalier and insensitive. Don’t be surprised if people start avoiding you.

If any of these strike a nerve or get you thinking… it may be time to explore what blind spots might be getting in your way.

e-musings leadership tips on uncovering blind spots:

  • Seek feedback often – the good, the bad and the ugly
  • When you learn about a blind spot, slow down, get curious and find the grain (or boulder!) of truth in it
  • If you notice a potential blind spot in a colleague, help to enable their success by:
    • Asking if they are open to hearing some feedback
    • Being as specific as you can – what behavior do you notice and what is the impact (on the team, on results, etc…)
    • Getting curious and helping them process the information

Any comments or stories to share? Have you ever been blinded by a blind spot? How did you work through it?

You Might Also Like

6 thoughts on “Don’t Be Blinded: Seeing Opportunity in Blind Spots

  1. These are great, Erin. I was thinking that sometimes the blind spot relates to not showing up strongly enough. Further, when a colleague offers feedback about a blindspot, it is best done in a caring way – it is easier to hear about something we may not be aware of when it is offered in the spirit of helping us to be our best self. We can help each other learn and grow when we engage in a genuine conversation about our observations and, as you say, do so with curiosity. Thanks for your thoughts on this important topic.

    1. I totally agree. Our blind spots are *easier* to digest when we hear about them from someone who really wants to help us succeed. I’ve also been thinking that sometimes, too, our blind spots are actually un-owned greatness as well!

  2. Hello Erin:

    My friend and colleague Lynn Harrison forwarded me your EXCELLENT musing! Thank you for such clear and concise explanations and examples.I will forward this on to my ‘blind’ clients!

Leave a Reply to Sara Jane Radin Cancel reply