Self awareness is an important trait required for good leadership. When we are aware of our strengths, weaknesses, natural biases and blind spots, we can use these to adjust the way we lead.
We can bring out our strengths more often, and try to reduce the degree that we rely on our weakest traits. We can challenge our own biases to treat people fairly and help people feel included in our workplaces.
Blind spots are an area of danger for leaders. Blind spots include aspects that we don’t know about ourselves, that others can see. Or they may be beliefs about ourselves or our capabilities that others know aren’t true.
Whatever the case, blind spots are dangerous for leaders because they may cause us to take action based on false beliefs that lead us down the wrong path.
It’s like putting your full faith in a map… on which the key landmarks and distances are all wrong. You never know where you’ll end up!
Examples of Blind Spots
Blind spots come in many different forms that can hurt us in different ways.
Here are some examples of blind spots that may trip us up or lead us down the wrong path:
- Skills: We may believe we’re awesome at delivering presentations. The people who have to sit through them can see that in reality, we’re terrible.
- Knowledge: We think we know the best way of doing something, but others who have researched the subject know there are better ways.
- Biases: We like to think we’re impartial during our interview process. Why is it then, that we only tend to hire middle-aged white men for certain roles when there are other talented individuals available?
- Behaviour: We believe we treat our team members equally. However, people around us might observe that we tend to favour some people over others.
As you can see, there are lots of different blind spots that could occur. Essentially, they all come down to one thing. That we believe something, that others can see is not true.
Learn More: Is Optimism Bias Sabotaging Your Leadership?
A Helpful Model for Self Awareness
A useful model for understanding self-awareness is called the Johari Window, which you can see pictured below.
The Johari Window considers what we know about ourselves and what others know about us, resulting in four quadrants.
When we know something about ourselves and others know it too, we have the Open Area. When there are aspects we know about ourselves but others don’t know, we have the Hidden Area.
In my opinion, the most interesting and potentially damaging of all the quadrants are those areas where we don’t know something about ourselves, but others do: the Blind Spots.
When we have significant blind spots we run the risk of damaging trust, credibility and losing respect, potentially appearing deluded, incompetent or misguided to the people around us.
How to Reduce Your Blind Spots
Blind spots are tricky because we suspect they are there, but we don’t know where they are! We may not be sure whether what others believe about us is the same as what we believe.
However, all is not lost. We can take action to reduce our blind areas and ensure that even if people around us are aware of our shortcomings, we remain aware of them too.
1. Watch Out For Triggers
One way to start looking out for your blind spots is to become more aware of events or behaviours that set you off, producing a strong emotional reaction.
For example, triggers might include somebody interrupting you in a meeting, people forcing you to make decisions without enough time to think, or people who act too slowly for your liking.
If you know your triggers, then they aren’t blind spots! You can try to reduce the chances of them occurring, or prepare strategies to help you deal with them in advance.
But if you’re someone who has a tendency to be caught by surprise by strong emotions, it might be wise to take note of when they occur for you.
Learn More: Handling Emotions in Leadership.
2. Notice Areas of Resistance
According to Steven Pressfield in the War of Art, resistance is the internal force that keeps you from showing everybody your best self.
Resistance keeps you from doing your best work, from taking risks and making mistakes and failing in pursuit of something greater.
You’ll notice resistance if you pay attention. You might avoid that opportunity to speak at the big conference. Or, you might put off having that difficult conversation with a team member or your boss.
Perhaps you’ve got all these improvements you want to make in your team, but you never really get around to executing on them.
Resistance convinces us that we shouldn’t do something and stops us acting. This is relevant to our blind spots, because the symptom of resistance means there could be a root cause under the surface that you’re not quite admitting to.
Look for areas of your leadership where you feel resistance. Dig deeper and see whether there is something more that could be a blind spot.
3. Ask for Feedback
Asking for feedback is a great way to become informed about some of your potential blind spots.
But there is a caveat here – not all feedback is useful. For your blind spots to be uncovered, it’s best if the person giving the feedback:
- Has your best interests at heart. People who have ulterior motives may provide feedback that isn’t entirely helpful, or could be misleading.
- Isn’t concerned with being your number one fan. Your best friend or biggest fan is possibly not your best source of feedback. They’re more interested in bigging you up than helping you grow.
- Is somebody you trust. Someone who has a track record of doing the right thing by you may be a helpful source of feedback.
Malicious or unhelpful feedback can destroy confidence and have you jumping at shadows. Constructive feedback helps you take action, and you can grow as a result.
Choose the right person to find your feedback.
Learn More: 10 Simple & Effective Tips For Giving Feedback.
4. Seek an Independent Opinion to Uncover Your Blind Spots
Sometimes finding good feedback can be hard, and it can be useful to look for a more independent source.
Organisations often do this by finding consultants, who come in and review things.
Consultants can be useful when you’re struggling with an issue that you can’t seem to get on top of.
A fresh set of eyes can help you to see things that you might not be able to see yourself.
Coaching can be another useful way to test your thinking.
Not only can coaches be used as a sounding board to test your ideas, they can also reflect your beliefs back at you, which can lead to “Aha!” moments which uncover your potential blind spots.
P.S. If you’re interested in coaching with me, simply get in touch here.
You might also consider using internal support teams if your workplace has them. For example, many organisations often have “Business Partners” who specialise in areas such as Finance or HR who may be valuable resources to test your thinking.
5. Examine Your Failures
We’ve all probably heard a lot about “failing fast” and making sure people feel as if they are allowed to fail. Failure is definitely a useful tool, as long as you work to understand what went wrong.
What hasn’t gone right in your leadership career? Where did you or your team struggle? What were the reasons why? Is there a patten to your failures?
Some failures are isolated occurrences – a result of unexpected events. Others are systematic, where there may be a familiar pattern that leads to a bad outcome.
Take a look at your failures, or at situations where things just didn’t go quite as you hoped.
Did you make assumptions that were misplaced? Did you believe in something that wasn’t actually true? Perhaps you thought something was a minor problem, when it turned out to be a big issue?
Taking a closer look at your failures and discussing them with others can be a great way to uncover your potential blind spots.
So I’ve Found Some Blind Spots… What Do I Do Now?
If you’ve found one of your blind spots, congratulations! It is no longer a blind spot, because you can see it.
However, that’s not enough. You need to do something with this information.
Here are some ideas for you:
- Delegate. If you’ve found a weakness in an area which is hard to fix or avoid, someone else might be better placed to tackle the task instead.
- Improve. Found a deficiency where you really should be more capable? Learn how to be better. You might not need to be the best in the world, but being better may be a good start.
- Reduce. Can you reduce the chance of your former blind spot becoming a problem? Or can you reduce the impact of it on your leadership?
- Avoid. Sometimes, it is possible to avoid running into your former blind spots. However, this approach should be used with caution. Avoiding your issues may result in bigger trouble in the long run!
Blind spots are scary, because we can’t see them easily (obviously).
However, if you’re concerned that they could derail your leadership efforts, it’s worth trying to raise your awareness and bring them out into the open.
Ignorance might feel like bliss, but ignorant, unaware leaders create bad workplaces!
Have you ever uncovered blind spots that were affecting your leadership? How did you find out about them? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments!