Tag Archive for: feedback

We all have blind spots

Despite our sincere efforts to be a good leader, we all have blind spots – behaviors that are harmful to our leadership and we are unaware of. And because we don’t see them, we just keep managing the demands in front of us, with our blind spots leaving a destructive wake. Just as there is always a gap between what we espouse in our culture and the reality of our culture, there is always a gap between the self we think we present and the way others see us.

Unacknowledged blind spots will limit your impact and diminish your overall leadership capacity.

Five strategies for working with your blind spots:

  1. Make working with your blind spots a priority. Accept that you have them – we all do – and be committed to uncovering them. It’s not the blind spots per se, that are destructive. It’s our unwillingness to see them and work with them.
  2. Be curious. Carve out time for self-reflection. If we’re honest with ourselves, we have a sense of what our blind spots are. For me, one is when results aren’t immediate, and I’m stressed from not having the control of the outcomes. And when I’m stressed, I’m tense, and I question the impact I am having on my team. Other blind spot possibilities to consider include insensitivity to your people in a drive for results, over-valuing being right, a lack of strategic thinking, inflexibility, etc.
  3. Get regular feedback from people who know you and will tell you the truth. Feedback can come from a trusted confidant, a coach, or a support group. It can also come from your team – even if you start by making it anonymous.
  4. Acknowledge your blind spots and ask your team to elaborate. In my case, Marg, my VP of Client Care, elaborated on my blind spot when she explained that when results are down I have a tendency to disconnect from my vision, get stubborn and rigid, and resort to black-and-white thinking. This diminishes and disrespects the efforts of the team, while dis-inspiring people. Tension is contagious, and the team withdraws.
  5. Thank your team for their courage, recommit to make a change, and ask for their support. I find it useful, at this point, to craft an accountability agreement for how we will help each other grow.

Working with your blind spots is less about a destination and more about a method of travel.

Openly embracing your blind spots on a regular, ongoing basis restores your commitment to grow, keeps your vision fresh, and is a way for your team to continue to build courage, trust, and openness with each other.

Acceptance Of Our Darker Self: A Key To Leadership

I was coaching an executive recently who was sent to work with me by her CEO. The presenting problem was an extremely low score on a recent 360 survey. The results of her feedback were that she was a competent professional but had very poor interpersonal skills. When I tried to get the executive’s perspective of herself, all I got was a positive presentation. She was, indeed, very difficult to reach to and to connect with, just as her scores indicated. Soon after this initial interview started I pointed out the discrepancy between her “polished presentation” of herself and the reality of how others were perceiving her. Her response was that she was always taught to be optimistic and positive, and with a smile on her face, she explained that she just couldn’t understand why the feedback scores were so low.

Her perceived “inauthenticity” was distancing her from those she was most interdependent upon. It’s hard to trust people that won’t be honest with themselves. In reality, she wasn’t phony; it’s just that she was only expressing a small spectrum of herself.

A lack of acceptance of the darker side of herself (e.g. insecurity, fears, resentments, worries, inadequacies) was preventing her from being perceived as “real,” and resulting in people distancing themselves from her. She was also incapable of assessing the full spectrum of what was happening in her culture because she couldn’t see it in herself.

Authenticity is compelling. It also enables you to lead with greater wisdom and resourcefulness. This is our work together: to face and accept some of the darker parts of our nature, the parts we avoid. Connecting with and accepting a fuller spectrum of oneself – especially the darker self – enables us to better connect with others.

Entitlement: Greatness Run Aground

I have noticed that every time a great culture is built, there appears to be an opposite and equal reaction to greatness: entitlement. It seems to be human nature. If you give your kids a lot, they want more. I grew up with telephone party lines, with one line for up to five or six residences. There were times when you had to wait 1/2 hour to make a phone call. Now I get impatient with my cell phone provider when I get a dropped call and have to redial with the push of one button.

It used to take a winter to travel across this country on chuck wagons and horses. Now, as expectations have been raised, I find myself getting upset if a plane is thirty minutes late. Living in a great country, with world-class health care, education, law enforcement, and political systems seems only to increase our craving for more. Meet our needs with a high standard, and we raise the bar with a demand for more. I’ve seen the same dynamic in organizational cultures. The more the organization gives us what we want, the more entitled we feel. The best cultures I have worked with all experience the challenge of entitlement.

The reverse of this also seems true. My mother lived through the depression in a 900 square foot shack with ten siblings, enduring years of unimaginable poverty, and was void of entitlement. When she was close to death I asked her how she felt about dying. “After seventy-eight years, I accept death. I was fortunate just to have lived!” Joyce did not even feel entitled to life itself. Hard times are an ally in battling entitlement.

All the recent attention to building great cultures, empowering employees, and developing leadership capacity so people feel engaged seems to have unintentionally reinforced our love of entitlement. Living in great cultures has somehow fostered a belief that we have a right to get whatever we want without any obligations in return. Doing our own thing and expecting rights without service is self-serving. In the name of a great culture, we see people ask for such things as more pay, more freedom, greater recognition and privilege, more flex time or a risk-free environment without any reciprocating accountabilities.

This is simply wrong. Just because we are attempting to build cultures of trust that encourage you to find your authentic voice doesn’t mean you will get everything you ask for or have absolute security. Cultures of trust require a partnership, a commitment to a dialogue, not acts of concession. Accountable, authentic cultures of trust are based on reciprocal agreements. There are no licenses granted.

At the heart of entitlement is the belief that “my wants are more important than the culture and the culture exists for my sake.” At some point each of us needs to grow up and discover that our self-interest is better served by doing good work than by getting good things. Entitlement also rests on the belief that something is owed us because of sacrifices we have made. In reality, entitlement claims rights that have not been earned. It diminishes self-respect and constrains our freedom. The only way to reclaim what we have lost to entitlement is through acts of commitment and service to an entity larger than ourselves – the culture we work and live in.

When you see entitlement in the culture you live or work in, there are four steps to counter it:

  1. See entitlement as a sign of growth and greatness. You won’t find much entitlement in poverty and highly bureaucratic systems that have been suppressed for years.
  2. Identify the value or values you want to replace entitlement (e.g. self responsibility, service to others, gratitude).
  3. Find the allies in your culture who live by the values you are committed to and support them to foster these values with others who trust them. Like parenting, you only influence the values of people with whom you have a strong, trusting relationship.
  4. Get the values you want to instill off the wall and into people’s hearts through conversations and clearly defined actions. Then make a promise to live and work in accord with these actions, while being open for ongoing feedback and learning. Then shine a light an actions that are self-responsible, committed to service, and exude gratitude. Tell the story. Keep the renewed values fresh, making it difficult to be entitled.

Thanks to Peter Block (Stewardship: Choosing Service Over Self-Interest, Berrett-Koehler Publishers) for his inspiration behind many of these insights.