By Rose O. Sherman, EdD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN
One of my students called to talk because she had received her first performance evaluation as a manager. During the evaluation, her director talked with her about some of her leadership “blind spots” reported in her 360-degree evaluation. Her staff has a great deal of respect for her but her facial expressions often convey exasperation when a question is asked more than once. She also becomes defensive when asked about decisions she has made. She wondered if she should quit because they “do not appreciate the efforts that I am making in this very challenging role.” I have built a good relationship with her so I able to be pretty direct with her. I noted that I don’t observe her work as a manager but her reaction to the feedback indicated to me that she probably is defensive.
The author John Maxwell has defined blind spots as “an area in the lives of people in which they continually do not see themselves or their situation realistically.” All of us have them and if they are serious enough, they can derail our leadership. Three key areas of leadership blind spots that seem to appear in many studies include under-communicating strategic direction and priorities, poorly communicating expectations, and waiting for the poor performance to improve to avoid conflict.
There are no magic bullets to uncovering and working through your blind spots but here are some suggestions from leadership experts:
- When you receive information from a 360-degree assessment or findings from other instruments – use it to develop a personal leadership action plan. Don’t justify areas of weakness by making statements like that is just who I am.
- Find a peer-coach – many leadership programs include a requirement that participants have a neutral leader observer in the organization to give the leader feedback about their behavior in conversations and meetings.
- Avoid hiring people just like you – diversity is important on teams and can help leaders to quickly identify their own biases if they are willing to listen with the idea that they could be wrong.
- Consider your own performance reviews – what do you need to continue doing, do more of, do less of and stop doing.
- Work on your relationship skills because for most leaders – this is where their biggest blind spots are. Talk less and listen more.
- Think about feedback that you have received perhaps in jest about our physiological behaviors such as talking too fast for others to keep up with you or maintaining no eye contact during conversations.
- Be willing to ask tough questions and able to accept unpleasant feedback – people will tell you the unvarnished truth if they know they will not be punished. Brene Brown in her book Dare to Lead recommends that when someone says something clearly negative instead of over-reacting – ask them to “tell me more.”
Remember if you don’t work to uncover your blind spots, you won’t work on them. You may be a smart, talented leader that has some subtle behaviors or attitudes that hold you back and lead you to be negatively viewed by your colleagues. To move further in your career, open yourself up to the feedback and be willing to change.
Available in Late January 2019