By Patrick Gallen, Partner, People and Change Consulting, Grant Thornton
Blind spots, by their very nature, are unknown to almost every leader. We don’t know what we don’t know, which makes reducing blind spots so difficult! But the danger, if we don’t become aware, is continuing on in a way that we think is working, but may be missing the mark.
How can leaders understand their blind spots, and take corrective action to mitigate against potential unintended consequences?
The answer is feedback. By seeking feedback from a variety of people, at all levels, leaders can increase awareness and understanding from various sources. In order to create an environment where people are confident to give their leader feedback, trust must also be prevalent.
Have you come across the Johari window model? It is a model developed by two psychologists (Joseph Luft and Harrison Ingham) often used to explain how leaders can increase their ‘open arena’ and decrease their blind spots.
The model is useful because the four boxes (or window panes) show the difference between what is known/unknown to self and others. The only way to decrease blind spots (unknown to self but known to others) is to ask others to share what they know about you (the impact of your actions, things you do that others appreciate or don’t, how you come across, etc).
Once feedback is shared, it is no longer a blind spot, and increases the size of your ‘open arena’ in the window.
It can be difficult to ask for feedback. Most of us have an immediate negative reaction to someone asking, “Can I give you some feedback”. And yet, we know that it is essential to give and to get feedback.
The temptation is to only ask for feedback when we know it is going to be positive, and yet the feedback we get when we know we have done a good job is unlikely to decrease a blind spot.
What is the cost of blind spots? This is the subject of a new book, ‘What are your blind spots?’ by Jim Haudan and Rich Berens, and according to the authors, the cost of blind spots is stifling employee engagement, creativity, innovation, and potential. Blind spots, they argue, impede your leadership and block your vision.
The book is peppered with examples of leaders with mistaken concepts and faulty ideas, who, unchallenged, pay the price by derailing their companies, and generating employee cynicism and apathy. It is well worth a read if you would like to know more about this fascinating subject.
But for those of you who don’t have time to read the book, here is my advice to help you decrease your own blind spots.
First, acknowledge that you have blind spots. We all do, so let’s not pretend otherwise.
Second, get into the habit of asking for feedback. After every meeting, speech, presentation, or project, ask someone who observed you in action to give you feedback.
To make it easier for them, you may want to phrase it as “one thing I did well, and one thing that could be even better next time”. This gives them permission to give you a positive point and a development point.
Thirdly, when someone gives you feedback, do not justify or explain why you did or said things the way you did. Simply thank them for the feedback. After you have done this for a short period of time, you may start to notice a pattern…which could be a blind spot revealing itself! Happy days!
As the old hymn Amazing Grace goes…”I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see”. Clarity of vision is critical for leadership, and will help you lead with confidence and grace.