When Blind Spots Rule

Does this sound familiar to you: Several members of your managerial team make efforts to create a positive workplace and support their fellow team members beyond what is expected.  On this same team, you also have members who do not contribute at the same level, possibly due to home life commitments or other pressing personal concerns.

Are you frustrated with these employees? If so, you might have fallen into the trap of believing there is a single “right way” for these managers to behave. Of course, the right way is your way! In a diverse culture, this blind spot can carry serious negative consequences.

Here are examples of personal leadership blind spots:

  • We handle mistakes poorly. It takes courage, maturity, and grace for leaders to admit mistakes, especially publicly. Yet when we display humility and say that we have erred, most people can forgive and forget. It is ironic that leaders who do not readily admit making errors are the same leaders who are not well trusted by their colleagues. Honestly owning and admitting what is true is a powerful practice for leaders. Not only does it create a safer environment for others who may make mistakes, it also fosters trust in the relationship with the leader. Admitting our own mistakes helps establish a blame-free, “just” culture.
  • We don’t exhibit a sense of humor. Leaders who take themselves too seriously are difficult to know and even more challenging to trust. When we can laugh at what is genuinely funny, even if that is something we’ve done, we reveal our humor and humanity. This builds our relationships and empowers us as leaders.
  • We aren’t prepared. There is no excuse for a lack of preparation for leaders. The good news is that I have encountered very few leaders who I experience as ill-prepared. That truly is fortunate, because there is never a substitute for competence.
  • We are prepared, yet we are also overly anxious. This is the other side of preparation, and I do see this with some leaders. Sometimes we tend to over-study an issue before we feel comfortable speaking about it, let alone take the lead. It is important for us as leaders to prepare enough and let go of being “perfectly” ready. Then we can take action and calibrate future choices as needed.
  • We are not open to nor do we ask for feedback. The simple act of asking for feedback and being open to others’ input is easy, powerful, and often overlooked. This is true for many leaders, and it is especially harmful for leaders who are at the top. As we ascend the organizational hierarchy, fewer individuals are willing to give us direct and honest feed-back. We may not know how the speech went, and we don’t ask. Or if we do ask, people may say “very well,” even if it’s not the case. It’s up to us as leaders to create the safety for people around us to tell us what they really think. This doesn’t mean we need to agree with or change because of their opinions. But we are always stronger leaders when we hear others’ feedback.
  • We lack transparency. When we aren’t transparent others are left to guess our true position on a given subject. This is a problem for several reasons: first, it is difficult for people to trust leaders they don’t feel they really know. Second, people don’t know where we stand on an issue. Not only does this leave them guessing, but it also invites them to invent a story about what we think. People need answers to the questions that are important to them. When they aren’t given the answers, they will create their own.
  • We are too transparent. In other words, we explain too much. How many of us know leaders who explain themselves too often? They share great detail about what they are doing, how they came to do it, and how it’s going. A leader who explains too much can sound defensive; people wonder why the person is sharing so much detail. Are they unsure of their position? Are they looking for approval? These are not the kinds of questions we want people to ask about us. Leaders who are attending to this blind spot are minding the quality and quantity of their communication.

The most serious problem with all of these blind spots is that they rob us of our true power. It is a trap to believe we can hide our feelings, know most everything, and rarely, if ever, make mistakes. This is a nasty trap, because we cannot hide, we can never know it all, and we will always make mistakes. What allows us to be truly capable leaders is our competence; our willingness to be authentic, honest, and open; and our readiness to be human with others.

Portions of this article appeared previously in Nurse Leader.

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