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Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter Hardcover – April 21, 2014

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Editorial Reviews


"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." 

    --Kevin Kruse - Forbes

"Robert Shaw's book Leadership Blindspots underscores the need to be both confident in your leadership capabilities and, at the same time, open to hearing contrary points of view, including feedback about your leadership impact. Individuals at all levels of a company will benefit from Robert's clear advice on how to lead effectively."

    --Sylvia Montero, author, Make It Your Business

"Optimism is both necessary and problematic for those leading a company. This book is particularly useful for entrepreneurial leaders who need to be careful that their drive and passion does not blind them to the challenges they face in growing a business. Leadership Blindspots helps you surface what you need to know to be successful."

    --Michael J. Kelly, chief executive officer, On Call International

"Leaders are sometimes blinded to the opportunities to grow their firms because they can't see beyond their current business model. Robert Shaw highlights the need to test one's core beliefs and assumptions. In particular, he offers pragmatic advice on building a leadership team that can look at a firm's vulnerabilities and think beyond the status quo."

     --Mark Ronald, former president and chief executive officer, BAE Systems, Inc.

From the Author

Q&A with Robert Bruce Shaw

How do you define blindspots?

Blindspots are unrecognized weaknesses or threats that can harm a leader and his or her company.

Are there different degrees of blindness?

There are times when leaders are completely blindsided by a weakness or threat and other situations when they are partially aware of a weakness or threat but fail to understand its potential impact or the need for action. 

What are the different types of blindspots?

We often think of blindspots in terms of a leader's self-perceptions and, in particular, the impact of his or her behavior. For example, a leader with an authoritarian style may believe, incorrectly, that he is being open and inclusive.  He does not realize that his style is undermining the accountability of others (as they know that key decisions will ultimately be made by him).  However, blindspots also exist in relation to the ways in which a leader views his or her team, organization, and markets. Blindspots in these other areas are equally if not more important in some situations than how a leader views him or herself.

In the book, you give examples of blindspots that persist despite the harm they can cause.

Some leaders get in their own way by making similar mistakes over and over.  Consider the leader, smart and successful, who at times misreads others.  In particular, she thinks their values and motives are similar to her own when in some cases they are not - which results in a number of poor staffing decisions that hurt her and her business.  This is not only a weakness but a weakness that she doesn't recognize in herself.  One way to gain awareness of your blindspots is to look for patterns in the mistakes you make over time. 

What is the best way to ensure that blindspots don't harm a leader?

Leaders need to create mechanisms that surface the blindspots that matter. This is the equivalent of what you find in new cars that have a blindspot warning system that signals the driver when another car has entered his or her blindspot (the area where you can't see another car approaching). Such mechanisms are important for leaders because their own internal warning capabilities always have limitations.  You need to put into place external mechanisms that warn you when your blindspots are potentially dangerous.

What is an example of such a mechanism?

One of the best is a confidant who knows and respects you--but will tell you when you are failing to see a weakness or threat. Savvy leaders have people who act as warning systems in different areas when they are viewing an issue in a distorted or incomplete manner (such as the viability of a particular strategy or the success of a new initiative).  But you need at least one person, someone you trust in regard to his or her capabilities and motives, who is first among equals in offering you feedback across a variety of areas.

At the same time, you argue that what others see is not always on the mark.

This occurs for at least three reasons. First, others may not see you in a wide variety of situations and thus may have less accurate information than you have about yourself. Second, others don't have direct access to your "internal" information, things about yourself that you understand better than those observing you--such as your intent in making a decision. Third, blindspots don't exist just in the person being observed.  What others observe about you sometimes says more about them than you. Leaders need to understand how they are perceived but then assess if change is needed in areas in which their self-perceptions are different than the perceptions of others.

You also maintain that some blindspots are positive.

Most people believe that awareness is always beneficial -- that it is productive to confront reality in all situations. This view is almost always true in that denial can have devastating consequences for both a leader and his or her company.  However, it is false when awareness erodes a leader's confidence and ability to inspire others.   Blindspots, in some situations, have a positive influence that both leaders and their followers need to understand.  No less a leader than Steve Jobs had what his team members in the early days of Apple called a "reality distortion field."  He learned, over time, to better recognize and manage his faults.

What are the key takeaways from the book?

- All leaders have blindspots because of a range of psychological and organizational factors.  There are varying degrees of blindness but no one escapes unscathed.  

- Most blindspots are destructive but some are adaptive. The skill is knowing which require your attention and which are better left alone.

- You need to surround yourself with people, processes and practices to surface the blindspots that have the potential to derail you.  The book describes how the best leaders do this.              

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Jossey-Bass; 1 edition (April 21, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1118646290
  • ISBN-13: 978-1118646298
  • Product Dimensions: 7.3 x 0.9 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #66,896 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Robert Bruce Shaw assists business leaders in building organizations and teams capable of superior performance. His specialty is working closely with senior executives, as individuals and as groups, on organizational and leadership effectiveness. Robert works with leaders in new positions to help them transition into their roles and with longer-tenured leaders seeking to enhance their impact.

Robert's clients span a variety of industries including pharmaceuticals, financial services, telecommunications, industrial products, defense, power utilities and consumer goods. Robert holds a Ph.D. in Organizational Behavior from Yale University. He has authored or co-authored books and articles on organizational and leadership performance including Trust in the Balance: Building Successful Organizations on Results, Integrity and Concern; Discontinuous Change: Leading Organizational Transformation and Organizational Architecture: Designs for Changing Organizations. Recent articles include Developing Peripheral Vision, Organizational Bystanders and Changing Culture.

Robert is a frequent speaker on leadership and team performance.

Customer Reviews

4.9 out of 5 stars
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See all 8 customer reviews
I highly recommend any type of leader read this book.
Patricia Faulhaber
For those with a deeper interest in the topic, the introductory chapters provide a solid base and excellent examples.
T. Martinez
Absolutely one of the best Leadership books available.
Kevin Peters

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
BOOK REVIEW: 'Leadership Blindspots': Management Consultant Shows How Executives Can Identify, Overcome Weaknesses That Matter


"Any business today that embraces the status quo as an operating principle is going to be on a death march." -- Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, quoted on Page 164 of "Leadership Blindspots"

* * *

Reports that say ... that something hasn't happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know. —Donald Rumsfeld, United States Secretary of Defense in the George W. Bush administration

* * *

Rumsfeld's famous -- or infamous -- formulation, came to mind when I saw the "Blindspot Matrix" in Robert B. Shaw's intriguing and readable book "Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter" (Jossey-Bass, an imprint of John Wiley & Sons, 240 pages, appendixes, notes, index, $35.00).

According to Wikipedia, Rumsfeld was derided for his statement, but also defended by Canadian columnist and author Mark Steyn -- whose books I've reviewed -- linguist Geoffrey Pullum and Australian economist and blogger John Quiggin.

Steyn called it "in fact a brilliant distillation of quite a complex matter"; Pullum said the quotation was "completely straightforward" and "impeccable, syntactically, semantically, logically, and rhetorically".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Peters on April 21, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Absolutely one of the best Leadership books available. Filled with insight, from Leaders and Advisors, as well as valuable, understandable theoretical perspectives.

This book is directed to discovery and ACTION. It enables Leaders to understand the impact of their behaviors and develop their leadership style to become more effective and aware as leaders. Shaw uses real cases in every chapter to illustrate the inherent nature of blindspots and the different forms they take in the leadership arena.

Beyond that, the chapters contain actionable steps leaders can take to increase their effectiveness by identifying their strengths and blindspots (often closely related) and through concrete steps, develop and overcome their blindspots to become more powerful leaders.

Patricia Faulhaber writes an excellent summary of each chapter in her review, so I shall not repeat it here--but I will add that each page gives one the insight and desire to utilize the tools and approaches to begin developing into a more aware and successful leader.

In my practice I work with a wide variety of leaders, from seasoned CEO's, to Military Commanders, Chief Scientists, Plant Managers and even brand new supervisors in key organizational roles. Each of these individuals and their teams will benefit greatly from Shaw's book. They will be working independently and with me to apply the necessary suggestions, as they have engaged me to help them become more effective leaders.

ACTIONABLE ADVICE--is what leaders seek from their advisors. This book is filled with just that!

I would especially encourage readers to go to Section 3, Resources section.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Faulhaber on April 1, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition
What has happened to leaders today? The decisions leaders make today across all spectrums have been constantly called into question as of late. The decisions made by the president of General Motors are good examples. Her decisions from years ago are being questioned today because she decided to wait to do a recall on millions of the company’s cars with an ignition defect that causes the cars to suddenly stall.

Her decisions may have allowed many people to die because of the mechanical defects of cars that her company has manufactured. Why did she make the decisions she made?
Shaw’s book may provide some insight into how a seemingly good decision at the time can end up being a killer decision in the end.

Shaw writes, “The fact that good judgment is built on bad judgment means that you learn primarily as a result of your experiences—particularly your mistakes.”

He goes on to write that mistakes occur everywhere within a company or organization including by those at the top
level. Mistakes occur for a variety of reasons including incomplete information available at the time of the decision or the leader just in the end makes the wrong choice.

The author refers to unrecognized weaknesses or threats “that has the potential to undermine a leader’s success” as blindspots. He suggests that some leadership failures are the result of “black swan events” that are outside of the control of the leader while some failures are the result of “situational blindness.”

Shaw writes that it is a complex balancing act when dealing with two conflicting needs that leaders experience. The first need is “to act with confidence in their abilities and faith in their vision for their organizations.
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