"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 4/10/14
"The best leaders are brutally honest with themselves and their team members, seeing reality for what it is and then taking action to address any weaknesses. Robert Shaw, who has extensive experience working with successful leaders, provides insight into how to avoid fooling yourself about what is really going on in your company and markets."
--Michael J. Thomson, president and chief operating officer, SunCoke Energy
"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 and manage. No less a leader than Steve Jobs had what his team members in the early days of Apple called a "reality distortion field." 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.