Wednesday, March 19, 2014

What’s Your Blindside?

Guest post by Great Leadership monthly contributor Beth Armknecht Miller:

We all have our blind spots, those things we either can’t see or choose not to see. These are behaviors that you mismanage and often become more intense and harder to manage during change and stressful situations. Let’s face it; blind spots can lead to shortfalls in our success as a leader or a team member.

Over the years coaching senior executives, I have found that there seems to be three themes around leadership blindside: Avoidance, Independence, and Acceptance.

Depending on your level of comfort the number one thing that leaders avoid are difficult conversations, which are generally related to an individual’s performance. And if you aren’t guilty of this, I know you know at least one person who is!  And, when the conversation finally occurs the outcome is worse than if the conversation happened closer to the questionable performance.

Delivering bad news about company performance would be the second type of avoidance.  Often the behavior displayed by a leader in these cases is a deafening silence and absence.  Suddenly meetings start to become less frequent and reports are delivered late. Often a leader’s fear is driving this behavior.  The leader has conversations in his mind of whom they might lose on their team and how it is going to impact them, or who will lose respect for him because of the bad results.

Another type of avoidance is change. The executive has identified a significant change that needs to be made, which will negatively impact employees. And instead of implementing the change, it is delayed and delayed again.

Independence can be displayed in a number of ways. This is the leader who has all the answers or believes that he should have all the answers. He thinks he is being paid to fix all the problems and has the right solution, so he doesn’t delegate properly. The result: team members aren’t growing to their full potential and often leave out of frustration.

Or it is the leader who sees the world only from his point of view and has difficulty stepping into the shoes of others. This behavior inhibits others to share their points of view and makes them feel less valuable as a team member. It stifles innovation and optimal solutions and ultimately this is an unsustainable model, growth will be inhibited as talent becomes frustrated and escapes to greener pastures.

This is the leader who accepts the current state of the business as acceptable and the external changes to be ones that won’t threaten the organization.  It borders on complacency, yet it is more insidious.  These leaders know, when challenged, that changes need to occur. Yet, left unchallenged they will continue to stay the current course.

So if you are already aware of your blindside, great!  What are you doing to address those behaviors that are getting in your way? And if you don’t know your blind spots, how might you go about uncovering them?

Uncovering Your Blind Spots: Ask and Assess
The easiest way is to ask and assess. Although, if you aren’t willing to be challenged you won’t receive the unfiltered truth. If you are in the C Suite, you can count on not getting the truth from your employees.  Why would an employee risk their job by helping you uncover your blind spots?

Yet, if you have a board of directors/advisors, or a peer group such as Vistage, that you trust and respect, you have a much better chance of uncovering your blindside by asking questions.

The second part of the process is to use one of many assessment tools that help to uncover behaviors within leaders.  In my practice, I use both Hogan and Business DNA, they both provide reports with practical coaching advice.

Once you have identified your blind spots, then it’s time to get started with a plan to address them and develop new behaviors that will help you to get your leadership to the next level.

Beth Armknecht Miller is CEO of Executive Velocity, a top talent and leadership development advisory firm. Beth is a trusted executive consultant, Vistage Chair, and committed volunteer. She is a graduate of Babson College and Harvard Business School’s OPM program. She is certified in Myers Briggs, Hogan, and Business DNA. And she is a Certified Managerial Coach. Beth’s insight and expertise has made her a sought-after speaker, and she has been featured in numerous industry blogs and publications. To learn more about Beth visit BethArmknechtMiller.comor


Steve Gannon said...

Thank you Beth!

I've been developing Leaders for years, in my experience your three themes are found at every level of Leadership. The biggest issue I've had is getting people to change their behavior. Most of us won't actually change our behavior until we are forced to by severe negative consequences. If people see for themselves, or if we can help them see that they would be much better leaders if they would simply address their avoidance (for example) I find most still resist changing until they find themselves on the edge of a precipice. How do you get people to change before they have to?
Thank you!

Beth Miller said...


Usually those willing to change before they have to are very high achievers. They have set specific goals for themselves so they are more apt to work on change before they need to change. They are also very disciplined in their approach to life so they will adopt processes to help them reinforce necessary change. But in general you are correct, it is human nature not to want to change until the "pain" of not changing is significant. There are tipping points such as being passed over for a promotion that will lead to the need to change.

Thanks for adding to the discussion!

Dr. Mary E. Robinson said...


Ben Simonton said...

A very valid observation Beth.

Steve's question of how do you get people to change before they have to is the real issue. It is very hard for anyone to get off the horse that brought them to where they are unless they can be shown why it's wrong to be where they are, why it's right to be where they could be, and a simple process to get from one to the other.

There is tons of evidence to support why they should not be where they are, the most important of which is the damaging effect they are having on their employees' quality of life. There is a lot less evidence of the managerial nirvana that exists when employees are led to be highly motivated, highly committed, full engaged Superstars who love to come to work to collaborate with other Superstars and are at least 300% more productive.

But having lots of proof of the latter is not so important since the way to get there is so simple. In preparation, it is important to explain how they came to have so many blind spots, that it was not their fault but the fault of an authoritarian society and an educational system that wildly misunderstands leadership.

The next step is to explain what leadership is, the transmission of value standards which employees then use as how to perform their work. If the leader is interested, it can be powerful to explain the five characteristics of people since these make clear how they must be led/managed.

But that step is not mandatory so long as they are willing to start the next step. Then ask them to add the simple step of listening to their lowest level people, one-on-one at first to get their complaints, suggestions, and questions and respond to those to the employee's satisfaction even if it means explaining why they cannot have what they want.

Once comfortable with one-on-one (they will need coaching for that trial and error process), they should start doing so in groups of 40 or less. As they do this, performance will rise inexorably and the need for direction will decrease.

This is a quick sketch and it will not work every time, but it does have a better chance than most approaches I have seen.

Beth Miller said...

The one-one coaching is critical! Ben, thanks for adding to this dialogue.

I actually believe that most leaders don't have nearly enough 1-1 meetings. At minimum they should be monthly but only after the relationship has been built. This is part of what I call the meeting rhythms for developing employees. I actually outline this in my new eBook, Are You Talent Obsessed?