Leadership Blind Spots

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about leadership blind spots. You know, those dumb decisions we make, knowing better once we see the results, and wonder why the heck we made the decisions we made? Mine typically center on personnel decisions, not strategic decisions. If you’ve been in a leadership position for any amount of time, you’ve made bad decisions. If you’re new to leadership, you will make bad decisions. We all make bad decisions from time to time, but why do we do it? I think it is because of our blind spots.

I decided to do some research on this topic to make fewer dumb decisions and compensate for my blind spots, and this is what I learned.

My blind spots

We all have internal biases that influence our decision-making and contribute to our blind spots. My biggest one is my rooting for the underdog. You know, the person who had to face incredible adversity throughout one’s life and overcome it to be successful. I love these folks. Why? Because I see myself as one of them. That sounds quite altruistic, and it may be. I’d like to think it is. Sometimes this leads to good decisions on my part, other times, not so much. Sometimes I choose the underdog for no other reason than being an underdog, that’s when I make my mistakes. That is my underdog blind spot.

The other blind spot I have is when I view a decision as strictly a pragmatic one. For example, I may choose to keep a team member on board because of his sales results, fulling knowing that he’s doing (and will do) more damage to the team and organization in the long haul. In these situations, I’m making my decision on the short-term vs. long-term and I rationalize it because we need to achieve sales goals and then wrap it in the unfounded hope that the person will “change”. This almost always comes back to haunt me one way or another.

Blind spots I’ve seen in others

I’ve seen terrific leaders make their personnel choices solely on IQ. I guess if you’re going to have a single criterion by which to measure a team member, IQ isn’t a bad one to pick. You can’t teach IQ so it makes sense that you hire “smart” and train them in other areas where they are weak. The problem I’ve seen with this is exactly the reason Daniel Goleman undertook his study on EI (emotional intelligence). I wrote an article on this that you can find here: https://www.summitlearningsolutions.com/emotional-intelligence/ The problem with only hiring on IQ is that while the person may be smart, he may not be able to work with others. And if you have a gaggle of smart people who cannot work together as a team, you go nowhere.

Another bad personnel decision I’ve seen made over the years is hiring based on experience, not talent. As with IQ, this one makes sense to me as well. It seems obvious that if you hire someone experienced in your business vertical, they take less time to train and launch. Since companies don’t like spending a ton of money on training, they’d rather defer to a person’s experience and save money and the risk. However, in my experience, while this sometimes works out, it generally does not because you are hiring other people’s problems and making them your own. I think we’ve all fallen for this at some point in our careers.

Non-personnel blind spots

Up until this point, I’ve focused on personnel decision-making blind spots. But there are other blind spots having nothing to do with hiring or training or promoting or working with people.

For example, having an “I know” attitude. This blind spot is driven by the value of being right above everything else. We’ve all run across this persona. You know, “the smartest guy or gal in the room” type. This is a trap because if you think you are always the smartest person in the room, you won’t ask questions. Why ask questions when you know it all? This blind spot, like others, lends itself to not-so-surprisingly poor outcomes. All of which could have been avoided by asking a question or two. Oh, and never wanting to be the smartest person in the room!

What about a leadership blind spot of avoiding difficult conversations? You know, those folks who avoid conflict at all costs. While I haven’t suffered from this affliction, I’ve worked with a lot of leaders who avoid difficult conversations like a plague. Unfortunately, this leads to all kinds of unintended negative consequences down the road.

Similar to the conflict avoidance blind spot, I’ve seen leaders who fail to take a stand or have a lack of commitment to a position. This is something I’ve seen only recently in leaders I’ve worked with. I’m not sure if its emergence is due to a lack of leadership training, perhaps generational differences or maybe just having emerged from a global pandemic when we couldn’t count on the information being true and leaving us all in a position of uncertainty. I’m not sure but as a leader, this blind spot is something you should compensate for in some way because you have people counting on you to take a stand, right or wrong, and lead them down the path of success.

How about Mr. Critical? You know the person. Instead of building people up, and maximizing the strengths they have, critical person only focuses on their weaknesses. I think this is probably the most damaging leadership blind spot because of the damage a leader does to everyone he comes in contact with. The focus is on destroying, breaking down, separating, fear, intimidation, etc. It should be a goal for each of us to not criticize. Only coach, build up, support, lend a hand, lift up rather than push down those around us so they can one day have the courage and confidence to try new things, fall, get back up and succeed.

I’m sure there are dozens of other leadership blind spots, but these are the ones that caught my attention. Either because I have them or I’ve seen them in others with whom I’ve worked.

How about you? What are your blind spots? What are the blind spots you’ve seen in others? How are you overcoming them and what tools/techniques have you found helpful in doing so?

Maybe my next article will be on solutions to compensating for blind spots.