Do you know what your leadership blindspots are?

It’s a trick question because, by definition, blindspots are areas where you lack awareness of your weakness. Many coaches casually refer to them as “derailers.” A leader continues to advance and climb the career ladder until an unknown weakness suddenly derails her career.

Robert Bruce Shaw in his new book, Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter, describes the 20 most common blindspots he’s seen while working as an executive coach to hundreds of professionals. He’s found that unseen weaknesses arise in four areas: self, team, company and markets.

Blindspots about yourself include:

  • Overestimating your strategic capability. This is often the blind spot of leaders who have strong operational backgrounds, but then get promoted into higher levels of the organization where their role is more strategic.
  • Valuing being right over being effective. This blind spot occurs when a leader thinks she already knows the correct answer or best course of action, and is therefore unwilling to spend additional time listening to others. She may even interrupt people, or call conversations to a conclusion. Her followers quickly learn that it’s a waste of time to raise contrary opinions and ideas.
  • Failing to balance the what with the how. This blind spot occurs when leaders focus only on the measurable results of the organization. In extreme situations this can lead their followers to short-term thinking, or worse, unethical behaviors.
  • Not seeing your impact on others. This occurs when you assume that all of your followers have the same motivations, communication style, and goals and values as you do. This leads to confusion and frustration while working together as a team.
  • Believing the rules don’t apply to you. At some point, many leaders develop a sense of entitlement along with their level of success, power and authority. A leader with this flaw might not think that corporate spending limits apply to her, or that expense reports need to be completed on time, or that the normal rules from IT also apply to her.
  • Thinking the present is the past. Often personal flaws are shrugged off and new challenges are ignored, because what has worked in the past led to the present-day success. These leaders don’t realize that what got them here may not get them to where they want to go next.

Blindspots about your team:

  • Failing to focus on the vital few. Leaders with this flaw often focus on too many projects and details rather on the two or three key initiatives that will lead to success. The root cause could either be a desire for perfection, or being non-confrontational and wanting to put off the tough conversations and tough decisions.
  • Taking your team model for granted. Leaders with this roadblock create team structure based on their own desire, rather than the needs of their team members. Often a leader will put herself at the hub of the team forcing everything to go through her, becoming a bottleneck on decision making.
  • Overrating the talent on your team. Leaders with this flaw may value loyalty and be latching on to a team member’s prior success, either of which can blind the leader to someone’s true ability to get the current job done.
  • Avoiding the tough conversations. Leaders who struggle with crucial conversations send mixed messages to individual reports, which leads to unresolved issues, and in turn can frustrate other high-performing members.
  • Trusting the wrong individuals. When a leader creates an inner circle of key advisers, she risks closing off new ideas and seeing the reality of current situations. Inner circle members become focused on preserving their access to power, and are unlikely to deliver honest assessments if it might upset their leader.
  • Not developing a successor. Many leaders are focused on short-term results and advancing their own career, but they fail to consider the long-term needs of the organization and don’t spend enough time on the developmental needs of their team members.

So how can you overcome your blindspots? The best approach is to increase your time out of the office, and broaden your number of contacts. By spending more time with more customers, more employees, and more industry thought leaders, you are more likely to see the “truth” of your situation and to take appropriate actions. You have to put in that effort.

Check out my related post: Are good leaders smart?

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