- 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: 9 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,181,013 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter Hardcover – April 21, 2014
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"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 we should 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 the downsides of his towering strengths.
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.
Top customer reviews
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The author has taken a topic that is tough to self-assess and to coach others through and given it some much needed clarity. The assessment and planning tools have added insight into my blind spots as a leader. He has also given me approaches and tools when working with those I coach/advise to make them more effective leaders.
As other reviewers have mentioned, the layout of the book is genius. For those with a deeper interest in the topic, the introductory chapters provide a solid base and excellent examples. I particularly found the discussions of a leadership trait I sometimes observe – productive narcissism – and the balance of self-confidence and self-doubt fascinating. For those like me who have a shorter attention span, there is a self-assessment that I highly recommend going to first. Here the author not only provides a tool that just by taking it provides insight, but also pointed me to parts of the book to explore in more detail.
The “Blindspot Q & A” resource is another great example of the practicality of this book. In this section, Shaw takes concepts, definitions, and key ideas and skinnies them down to the critical few. Introducing a concept in a clear, succinct manner is critical when I work with time-pressured leaders. Here Shaw provides an outline of the concepts and thus my guide to explaining the notion to my clients
Like help from a passenger when driving to see what’s in the driver’s blind spot, this book shows a way to see important parts of the leadership landscape that cannot be seen when looking ahead.
REVIEWED BY DAVID M. KINCHEN
"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".
John Quiggin wrote: "Although the language may be tortured, the basic point is both valid and important."
* * *
In "Leadership Blindspots" Shaw presents (on Page 18) a Blindspot Matrix with Leader Capabilities: "Known Weaknesses; Known Strengths; Blindspots, and Unknown Strengths. He goes on to say Known Strengths represent "you know what you know." Known Weaknesses represent "You know what you don't know." And Unknown Strengths include "You don't know what you know."
This doesn't sound all that different from Rumsfeld's formulation, which gave filmmaker Errol Morris a title for his 2013 biographical documentary about Rumsfeld: "The Unknown Known."
The blindspot risk is that leaders fail to respond to weaknesses or threats due to a variety of factors including the complexity of their organizations, over-confidence in their own capabilities, and being surrounded by deferential subordinates.
Shaw's brilliant book provides a useful model for understanding how blindspots operate and why they persist, but at the same time suggests real, actionable steps to improvement. The book details a range of techniques that make blindspots stand out in sharp relief, so action can be taken before severe damage occurs –- to a leader or his or her company.
The one characteristic great leaders share is the constant desire for self-improvement. Good can always be better. These weaknesses and threats are called blindspots because they are invisible to the individual but have the potential to wreak havoc on one's reputation and long-term success. Identifying and fixing crucial problems is the leader's job, and sometimes the most debilitating problems are with the leaders themselves.
In "Leadership Blindspots" Shaw cites many executives by name whose blindspots prevented their companies from achieving their potential goals. One in particular is Steve Ballmer, who retired as CEO of Microsoft on Feb. 4, 2014, replaced by Satva Nadella. Shaw uses the Howard Schultz quote at the beginning of my review to point out the flaws of Ballmer "who failed to keep pace with more successful rivals in areas such as internet search, smart phones, and tablets," he writes. Microsoft's stock bumped up on Ballmer's departure.
Shaw suggested that Microsoft's chairman and co-founder Bill Gates should give the new CEO a photograph of Henry Ford "as a reminder of what needs to be done." Gates has a photograph of Henry Ford on his desk.
Ford, writes Shaw, is a case study of a leader who "surrounded himself with sycophants who told the great man what he wanted to hear." Ford's failure to keep pace with automotive developments by continuing to build obsolete Model Ts led the company to the verge of bankruptcy as it lost its massive lead in automotive production to innovators like General Motors and Chrysler.
On page 97, Shaw writes that executives could benefit from a suggestion made by the great Peter Drucker years ago: "He thought that leaders could learn a great deal by writing down the reasons behind their key decisions, including their expectations of what would occur. Then, after a period of time, they should review the accuracy of their expectations and the lessons learned."
Shaw also provides dozens of case studies of executives who did the right thing, made the right decisions, treated their subordinates with dignity, listened to their contrarian views. These case studies are as valuable as the ones showing actions that harmed the companies in question.
I'm not a big fan of most motivational business books, but I have nothing but praise for "Leadership Blindspots," where insights are found on virtually every page. If I were a business executive or entrepreneur, I would buy the book by the box full and distribute copies to my employees -- including the grunts who do the actual work!