Blinds spots are, by definition, habits, patterns or behaviors that you can't see in yourself. The challenge with blindspots for leaders is just that - you are blind to them. You may sense there is something “off” but it is difficult to identify exactly what it is. Or, more likely, you have no idea you have a particular blindspot.
A leadership blind spot may be something that is recurring and always an issue. If you find yourself dealing with the same challenging situation over and over, there is a blind spot at play. There is probably some areas of your personal and/or professional development as a leader that is not getting addressed. Blindspots are deeply rooted beliefs and patterns that are informing the way that you're behaving as a leader.
These patterns present quite a challenge as they are primarily unknown to us and exist beyond our peripheral vision. Even if you solicit feedback from others and people have the opportunity to tell you about your behavior, there will still be blindspots that go unarticulated as people primarily speak about the symptoms rather than the root cause of a behavior.
Learn three clues to identify these debilitating leadership blind spots.
Clues and Challenges with Identifying Blind Spots
As a leader, you are probably a great problem-solver and have an ability to quickly generate solutions. But, when the issue is related to your blinds spots, you just can't quite put your finger on why something happening. You may see the same issue show up again and again. Perhaps it’s difficult work relationships, unsuccessful meetings, failed projects or general lack of performance. The problem is that until you uncover your own blindspots, they will continue to cause stress and frustration not only for you but for those around you.
Identifying your blindspots might seem impossible at first. Ideally, you have a coach or a mentor or manager who is trained in seeing blindspots and also who understands how to diagnose them and discuss them in the most effective way. This can be delicate because blind spots can have a lot of pain and emotion attached to them. These are habituated behaviors that you act from unconsciously which often develop in our childhood. Unfortunately, they deeply inform how you show up as a leader on a daily basis.
As you can see, this process is a bit tender and vulnerable, which is why most people keep blind spots blind. Consciously or unconsciously, they keep them hidden because they are too painful to look at yet that is actually where so much insight and personal power can come from. Uncovering your blind spots is essential to your leadership development.
How Blindspots Play Out
I want to give you an example of a client I was working with recently during a Leadership Immersion. I will call this person Joanne. While I was working with Joanne, we talked about some of the biggest challenges that she was facing. We then began mapping some of the patterns we saw. The feedback I ultimately gave her, which revealed a significant blind spot, is that she holds back when dealing with senior leaders. Joanne’s position is at the senior director level but whenever she was dealing with VP’s or with the CEO, she was consistently holding herself back.
She was not aware of this pattern. At first her response was, “But I'm engaging with them and I'm making good recommendations and I'm doing this and that.” The reality, however, was that she was holding back in some very important ways. She wasn't sharing information that needed to be shared. She wasn't actually making all of her recommendations and as her coach, I called her on it. In our work together, we found that Joanne had a blind spot and that her deepest fear was of being challenged and humiliated in front of people of authority. This fear came from her childhood and by taking the time and telling the truth, we were able to gently and kindly uncover this pattern and work with it. Once that particular blind spot was revealed, we were able to see where in her job she was playing small and how she was limiting her career success.
By the way, this is not work that I could have done when I started as an executive coach 20 years ago. Quite frankly, this has come from many, many years of working as a coach. In that time, I’ve worked with thousands of leaders and as a result I have developed the ability to approach things in a very mindful and conscious way. I see things, I diagnose, and then I'm able to be able to identify those patterns. This work is not for the faint of heart. In fact, in most organizations, even those that have internal executive coaches, this level of feedback simply cannot happen. Often the coach is not trained to be able to do it or they do not have permission to do it. As a result, the person is not open to being that vulnerable with people in their organizations.
3 Clues to Identify Your Blind Spots
Become a detective. Begin to notice some of your biggest recurring patterns or problems. You may have challenges around certain situations, certain people or with certain projects. Use your sleuthing skills to find out what the recurring problems are.
Start mapping the patterns that you see. Take the last 10 problems that you have faced, and ask, “What are some common habits and patterns in those problems?” It is sometimes difficult to see them because we're too close and we might have a story attached to them. Stories can really hold us back if they are untrue.
Tell the truth about your behavior. Look closely at how you're operating. Then start checking in with other people. You must have the courage to tell the truth. This is all quite vulnerable territory for a leader and, quite frankly, most organizations don’t have the safety or the space to actually tell the truth and talk about our more problematic patterns. Most leaders don't do it or they do it in a way that is guarded and protected so as not to diminish their reputation within the organization. The problem with that is that it actually promotes and reinforces the blind spot.
I feel a huge honor to be able to work with leaders in this way. Working with blindspots is interesting territory to traverse. It is my hope that by sharing these strategies with you, you will be able to identify your own blindspots and with practice become more and more aware. If you have an Executive Coach in your life, it's important to start that conversation now. If you don't, it's important to find someone that you can begin this level of exploration with so that you can address your blindspots, accelerate your leadership and ultimately your performance.
Athena Williams, Founder of Uplevel DNA and Executive Coach, has been facilitating leadership retreats for individuals and organizations for over 18 years. Her powerful, impactful approach creates deep and sustainable transformation within a short time. She is currently hosting retreats virtually, onsite and in select locations where clients fly in for their retreat, the Uplevel DNA Leadership Immersion, in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Maui or Auckland, New Zealand.