According to Robert Bruce Shaw, in Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter, great leadership emanates from an ability to make great decisions which comes from making bad decisions and learning from them. The sooner in your career that those bad decisions are made, the better.
Of course, you make fewer mistakes as you progress in your career and as you experience the outcomes of the mistakes, but you never stop making them. In addition, mistakes are more costly as you move up the ladder in a company and can potentially derail your career.
In light of this issue, in Leadership Blindspots, Robert Bruce Shaw investigates the existence of leadership blindspot, an “unrecognized weakness or threat that has the potential to undermine a leader’s success” and that becomes evident in the way your team, organizations and markets are perceived.
How to characterize leadership blindspots?
First of all, leadership blindspots are often associated to leadership strengths. They appear whenever the leader is utilizing his or her strengths at work. Second of all, blindspots don’t disappear, even if you are fully aware of them. Thirdly, blindspots are situational, adaptive and can be helpful. And finally, blindspots are able to impact other people and followers.
Advice for understanding and dealing with leadership blindspots?
Furthermore, blindspots come with a price and has to be recognized by the leader in order for him or her to find a balance. To do so, leaders have to weigh two conflicting needs:
- their need for acting with confidence, believing strongly in their vision, and having faith in themselves, their abilities.
- their need for assessing their limitations in order to avoid overconfidence or excessive optimism.
The complex balance between self-confidence and self-doubt is unnatural, contradictory but necessary, depends on each individual and each situation.
If there are too many blindspots, the leader can be overly confident and arrogant. If there are too few blindspots, the leader is somewhat realistic about the obstacles to face, is aware of his or her strengths and weaknesses.
Are there different levels of blindness?
There are three levels of blindness that a leader could experience:
- Lack of awareness level. This is the “most extreme form of a blindspot”. At this level, leaders are constantly surprised or blindsided by events.
- Faulty assessment level. At this level, leaders are in denial: they refuse to acknowledge risks, to analyze known weaknesses, and to understand the causes and consequences of their blindspots.
- Failure to act level. At this level, leaders know the risks, threats and weaknesses that lay ahead but fail to act on them for lack of skills and resolve. Those leaders are adept to the rule “when in doubt, do nothing” or rather remain in their comfort zones.
How to identify your leadership blindspots?
In order to identify your blindspots:
- review your past and present mistakes. Mistakes are indicative of blindspots, areas of lack of self-awareness, and areas of faulty patterns of thinking and behavior. It is advised to identify the most significant mistakes, their causes, patterns of behavior and thinking associated to these mistakes and the actions to be taken on the behalf of the leader to prevent those mistakes from reoccurring.
- Consider honest and useful feedback from your trusted advisors.
- Gain additional insight by taking the blindspot assessment survey.
Then, question the relative importance of your blindspots in your career and its impacts on yourself, the organization to distinguish which blindspot requires your immediate attention.
What are the different types of leadership blindspots?
Robert Bruce Shaw has classified leadership blindspots in 20 categories:
- “Overestimating your strategic capabilities”
- “Valuing being right over being effective”
- “Failing to balance the what with the how”
- “Not seeing your impact on others”
- “Believing the rules don’t apply to you”
- “Thinking the present is the past”
- “Failing to focus on the vital few”
- “Taking for granted your team model”
- “Overrating the talent on your team”
- “Avoiding the tough conversations”
- “Trusting the wrong individuals”
- “Not developing real successors”
- “Failing to capture hearts and minds”
- “Losing touch with your shop floor”
- “Treating information and opinion as fact”
- “Misreading the political landscape”
- “Putting personal ambition before the company”
- “Clinging to the status quo”
- “Underestimating your competitors”
- “Being overly optimistic”
Which factors trigger blindspots?
Blindspots often go hand in hand with the leader’s strengths and reappear unexpectedly when the leader does what he or she does best. There are few factors that lead to blindspots areas:
- “Experience gaps“. The blindspot stems from a lack of experience or from a habit of using past experiences to extrapolate a present situation.
- “Information overload” describes an inability to pay attention to everything that is happening when engaged in a complex and challenging task.
- “Emotional bias” corresponds to an emotional involvement in a particular situation or outcome that clouds judgement.
- “Cognitive dissonance” is a psychology term associated to a state in which leaders hold two conflicting views of their self-image. The “conflict is resolved through rationalizing one’s belief or actions in a manner that sustains one’s positive self-image” which reinforces the blindspot.
- “Misaligned incentives” are compensation systems that are “designed to focus attention and effort within an organization, with the result being that people focus more on some areas than on others”.
- “Hierarchical distortion”. The information transmitted to hierarchy becomes distorted, false, incomplete because:
- high-ranking leaders are sometimes detached from the lower levels of the organization.
- subordinates tend to sugarcoat information by deference or by fear of retaliation.
- high-ranking leaders pay less attention to less powerful people.
- “Overconfidence“. Leaders overestimates their own capabilities, skills and knowledge.
How to overcome blindspots?
According to Robert Bruce Shaw, it is not possible to completely suppress blindspots but it is important to recognize them and find ways to work with them?
To handle blindspot:
- Make an assessment of the problem on your own, stay on contact with frontliners, customers, markets and high potential individuals.
- Invest in metrics, processes and data that challenge the leader’s beliefs and basic assumptions.
- Develop an ability to recognize, prioritize blindspot warning signs.
- Consider feedback from trusted advisors.
- “Leaders need to test their ideas and discuss emerging threats with a diverse team of individuals who respect each other’s experience and abilities but are also willing to push each other to reach the best outcomes on the truly critical issues”.
In conclusion, leaders are flawed individuals with strengths, weaknesses and blindspots that are to be acknowledged. Blindspots often show up when the leader is using his or her strengths or reverts to their comfort zone, and cannot be completely resolved.
It is up to the leader to stay on the lookout for blindspots, to strike up a balance between self-confidence and self-doubt.
In Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter, Robert Bruce Shaw analyses leadership behaviors when it comes to blindspots and weaknesses. He illustrates every single one of his thoughts on blindspots with great and renown leadership examples and concludes each example with an analysis and lessons to take away. Furthermore, not only this book contains realistic and applicable examples, each paragraph of this book can be read on standalone.
In addition, Robert Bruce Shaw provides us with a tool —the blindspot assessment survey— for us to identify whether or not we possess blindspots and to what degree we have incubated them. I recommend this book to employees who are failing to lead and to boost their careers.
It has come to my knowledge that because of my belief system, I am an adept of the rule “when in doubt, stand still” which has not bothered my career but has increased my serenity. After taking the blindspot assessment test, I have received a low probability of blindspots as I am self-aware of my strengths and of my weaknesses.
Finally, Leadership Blindspots was intriguing to me because there are so many books about leadership strengths and developing them. I appreciated the fact that he mentioned the need for transparency (better visibility of mistakes thanks to the media) which put leaders are under a lot of pressure, all while trying to overcome their blindspots.
People who are smart and self-assured are often very skillful at justifying their thinking and behavior—to the point of being in denial about their weaknesses and the threats they face. Their intelligence can work against them when they convince themselves, and often others, that they are right even when they are wrong.
Successful individuals who sometimes stumble often do so because they have no one who can protect them from themselves.
The best leaders develop a range of compensating mechanisms that fit their personalities and the company cultures in which they work. In many cases these leaders don’t fundamentally change the way they think, but instead develop warning systems that surface important weaknesses and threats.