We all have them. Blind spots. Things that are unknown to us yet obvious to others; an area of our leadership vision we’re not able to see.
Chances are most of us have friends who play the “truth teller” role with us. At work, that’s less likely the case. Very few of us are surrounded by people who tell us the truth no matter how painful the message might be. More likely, our peers, staff and sometimes even bosses shy away from having tough conversations.
The downside to not being aware of our blind spots is that we can send signals we don’t intend. They often limit our ability to effectively communicate and can undermine our success. At their worst, blind spots can derail promising careers.
The antidote to blind spots is to ask for input – whether as part of a formalized process like a 360 feedback tool or through asking others for candid input.
The Spots That are Most Blind
From my experience, here are some of the more common blind spots:
- Doing it alone – you’re smart, and your great work as an individual contributor got you where you are today. It’s all too easy, and all too common, for leaders to assume they can do it all – without any help
- Lack of self-awareness – as a leader, your comments and actions carry a different weight than they did before. What may be a small comment to you can be analyzed and scrutinized by your team, creating confusion and concern
- Assuming everyone “gets it” – you’ve spent hours, days, weeks on a new business strategy or plan for growth. But frequently leaders don’t give their teams the information and context they need to succeed. You “get it” so and they do, too, you believe.
- Waiting to communicate – waiting until you have “all” the information creates a communication vacuum that feeds the grapevine with misinformation
- Believing you are always right – ignoring the ideas, thoughts and input of others creates disengagement and limits your ability to succeed
- Being unwilling to admit when you’re wrong or when you don’t know an answer – you’re not going to always be right and you won’t always have every answer. Not being able to admit it is a credibility killer
Figuring Out Your Blind Spots
The challenge and opportunity with a blind spot is to bring it to light and overcome it. Since by definition you are blind to your blind spot behavior, the only way to bring it to light is through input and feedback from others – which often is difficult to get the higher up you are in an organization. Too often, people tell you what they think you want to hear.
From my experience, here are the 11 best ways to receive feedback from your employees:
1. Ensure an environment where others feel safe to have a candid dialogue with you
2. Share your motivation and intent for getting input (you want to be better, and are especially looking for feedback you might not be aware of)
3. Ask open-ended questions
4. Assume feedback comes from a good place
5. Listen, listen, listen some more
6. Ask questions if you need clarification
7. Check your body language
8. Share appreciation to the person giving you feedback
9. Discuss the feedback with someone you trust outside of work – try to present it neutrally
10. Apply the feedback
11. Circle back to see if you’re improving
If you start to feel defensive based on some of the feedback you get, resist the urge to defend yourself. Your emotional response is a clue that further reflection is needed. You’ve just received some feedback that struck a nerve; chances are you might be on to a potential blind spot and have been given an incredible gift.
What you do next with that feedback is completely up to you.
What opportunities do you have in the next few weeks to get the input you need to overcome your blind spots?