Defensive Driving for Leaders: Watch Out for Your Blind Spots

You’re driving down the highway and need to make a lane change into the left lane. You glance at your rear view mirror, side view mirror and look to your left. All is clear, so you put your turn single on, begin to make the change, and all of a sudden, you hear a horn blow. You turn again to the left, and realize you almost just sideswiped a car while traveling 75 miles per hour. Your heart stops for a moment – it feels like when you’re leaning back in a chair and you lose your balance, and catch yourself before you fall over backwards.

If you’ve been driving for a while, no doubt this has happened to you. There’s a zone in the road – big enough for a car, even an eighteen wheeler, depending on your car – that your rear and side view mirrors don’t pick up. It’s called a blind spot, and if you’re not careful (use your turn single, turn around, gradual lane changes), they can kill you and others.

Leaders can have blind spots too. A leadership blind spot is some kind of behavior that a leader can’t see, but it exists for everyone else to see. See “Johari Window” diagram below.

While leadership blind spots may not be as fatal as a driving blind spot, if never discovered and unaddressed, they can turn into career killers, and wreck havoc on those around them.

Everyone has blind spots. Here’s a trick question: “What are yours?”

Answer: “If you knew what they were, then they’re not blind spots.”

I’ll bet this is starting to sound like “The Matrix”, or “Inception” (an awesome movie, btw). Yes, this blind spot business can be tricky.

Discovering your leadership blind spots is the same as bringing your driving blind spots into view – you need to look in multiple mirrors and get input from all sides.

Here are some ways to uncover your blind spots:

1. Take a 360 leadership assessment. 360 assessments will give you written feedback on key leadership behaviors from your manager, peers, employees, and others. Try LPI Online for an relatively inexpensive option that requires no certification or debrief, or any CCL assessment. PDI, Lominger, and DDI also all have excellent products.

2. Take some kind of validated, reliable behavioral assessment that helps uncover potential behavioral issues. Try DISC, MBTI Complete, Hogan’s HPI/HDS, or The Workplace Big 5. For any of these, it’s better to have someone who is familiar with the assessments to help you make sense of them.

3. Engage a coach. Most coaches will use their own favorite assessments, as well as conduct stakeholder interviews.

4. Ask for feedback – from your manager, employees, peers, etc… just make sure you’re ready to listen non-defensively. Giving feedback, even when asked, if difficult for many people. The way you ask and respond will influence the accuracy of the feedback.

Whatever method you use, just be prepared for that “jolt” (that feeling of leaning backwards in the chair…) of awareness. Finding out we are not seen as we see ourselves can be pretty unsettling.

Awareness is the first step in fixing blind spots, and often the most difficult. Then comes ownership, learning what to do differently (APBs, or alternative positive behaviors), and finally, lot’s practice to “cement” the new behaviors.

Stay tuned for our next defensive driving lesson for leaders: “Don’t be checking your smart phone during your 1 on 1s”. (-: