Blind spot – a condition in which you don’t know what you don’t know. But you don’t know that you don’t know. You think you know what needs to be known about that particular thing.
I want to discuss one particular blind spot. It is widespread in companies of all sizes and in all industries.
It is the unexamined difference between who you think you are and how the rest of the world sees you. If you’re a senior executive, it is particularly damaging in terms of how those perceptive differences affect your leadership effectiveness.
That singular blind spot can kill adaptability– your ability to embrace, exploit and benefit from emerging new realities that will profoundly influence your ability to remain relevant. If you’re a leader, you are usually surrounded by people that tell you what they think you want to hear, not what you need to hear. The tough truth is seen as too risky – as in career-ending. So you remain blind.
One of the most prevalent blind spots we encounter is when leaders see themselves as being open to people’s ideas that differ from theirs. But when someone expresses a different point of view, or suggests an idea that is outside tradition or common practice the leader shuts down the idea, the person and the discussion. It can occur in private or in a meeting. It sends an unspoken message to everyone that says, “no original thinking allowed.”Creative ideas disappear. Over time, the leader comes to believe, “I’m surrounded by robotic clods that just do what they’re told. We need to hire some creative people.”
If you think that this doesn’t apply to you, there is a 95% chance that you’re mistaken.
Here are three things you can do to dramatically reduce this blind spot.
- Call a meeting (or several if needed) with all of your direct reports. Tell them you believe that you are not as open to new and contradictory ideas as you have always believed you were. Ask them to help you change. They may resist, and try to tell you that you are, in fact, open minded. Tell them to prove it – with concrete, real-life examples. Then, enjoy the awkward silence that follows. Stress your commitment to changing. Tie the behaviors you want to see from them to the positive recognition you will give them for helping you adapt. Make it real.
- In meetings where ideas are being discussed – always speak last. Never allow yourself or others to dismiss anyone’s ideas out of hand. Examine every idea presented. Let the open discussion determine the fate of every idea – from acceptance as presented, to modification, to tabling for future discussion or to evidence-based rejection.
- Tie people’s candor in pointing out your blind spot to living your Values related to honesty, respect and integrity. And publicly acknowledge and reward the people who are willing to tell you the truth to your face.
When telling tough truths gets publicly rewarded, and silence or PC behavior is grounds for constructive criticism – your culture will begin to transform. Creativity will rise. So will productivity.