Leaders: Take the “Blind Spots” Test!

post from David Mattson:

If something bad were to happen to you or one
of your key team members, something that took you or that person out of action
for a month or more, would your business be in crisis? Would its performance
suffer? Would its survival be in question?

Did you hesitate before answering any of those
questions? If so, your company may be suffering from “blind spots syndrome.” One
or two people may be carrying a disproportionate share of responsibility for
the entire organization’s performance. In this situation, well-intentioned
company leaders often set themselves and their companies up for failure by taking
on too much, improvising too often, and not delegating effectively. As a
result, they typically don’t know what they don’t know about the most dangerous
obstacles they face … and, all too often, they’re not particularly interested
in finding out.

This dysfunctional way of working drains both
leaders and organizations of energy, resilience, and potential. It’s stressful
for you and everyone in the organization. How vulnerable is your company to the
blind spots syndrome? You can begin to get an answer by taking the following short

SPOT #1: No methodologies and systems.
everything is improvised, inconsistency carries the day, and predictable events
– like key people leaving or getting sick for an extended period – lead to
major, immediate problems. Give yourself a score of 1 if your business would be
in instant crisis if its top three people were, without warning, incapacitated
for a week or more; a score of 10 if such an event would have little or no
immediate effect on the smooth functioning of your organization; or another
score if your organization is somewhere in the middle.

SPOT #2: Not being in recruiting mode.
best companies are always on the lookout for the best people. Give yourself a
score of 1 if you are only in recruiting mode when there is a staffing
emergency; a score of 10 if you are always in recruiting mode; or another score
if you are somewhere in the middle.

SPOT #3: Not establishing a documented process for hiring.

Following a “gut feeling” is not enough. You need a clear, quantifiable hiring
process, and everyone who hires employees needs to follow it. Give yourself a
score of 1 if you have no documented hiring process; a score of 10 if you have
a detailed written hiring process that everyone with hiring authority in your
organization follows; or another score if you are somewhere in the middle.

SPOT #4: Not creating and sustaining a culture of accountability.

Supporting such a culture requires leaders to show personal vulnerability. The
leader’s example is the single biggest determinant of success in this area!
Give yourself a score of 1 if you have never acknowledged a personal skill gap
or oversight to a subordinate; a score of 10 if you regularly establish
specific accountabilities to subordinates and apologize authentically whenever
there is a breakdown that prevents you from fulfilling that accountability; or
another score if you are somewhere in the middle.

SPOT #5: Creating learned helplessness.
is a big one, and I want to look at it closely. People come to us to ask us for
our opinions all day long. Sometimes those requests for our opinion are really
requests that we solve a problem — and sometimes we are all too happy to jump
in and do so. Of course, a lot of these questions really are ones that your
team member wouldn’t know the answer to … but many are questions that the
person could answer on his or her own. We may field these questions at a time
when we are in the middle of something else that we don’t like doing very much
… like staring at spreadsheet numbers and looking for some magic trend. So when
the person with the question comes in, we are happy to put that down and move
into “rescue” mode.

This pattern brings to mind the proverb about
giving a person a fish to eat, as opposed to teaching a person how to fish. One
“solution” lasts a day – the other lasts a lifetime. Which is better? I think
you know the answer. Or think about your own home life. If your kid is having
trouble with homework, do you say, “Don’t worry, hand it over here, I’ll do it
for you”?  Of course not.

Yet we are all tempted to rescue team members
at work when we know they will be better off solving the problem themselves.
Why? One reason we tell ourselves is that we think it will be faster. We want
to just give the answer so we can go back to what we were doing. When we add up
all the interruptions, though, we realize we’re not really gaining anything.

Another driver is ego. We want to jump in and
be the “fixer.” Let’s be honest. We love this part of the job, especially when
it’s more interesting than what we were doing when we got interrupted!

Give yourself a score of 1 if you often find
yourself taking on tasks because you convince yourself no one else is capable
of “doing it right” or doing it on time; a score of 10 if that seldom or never
occurs and you spend 90% of your time working on the business, rather than in
it; or another score if you are somewhere in the middle.

These are just some of the obstacles that stand
in the path to personal and organizational excellence. Even one of the blind spots I’ve shared with
you has the potential to undermine or even kill a business. Why bother to
address these issues? Because failing to do so leaves you vulnerable to
unacceptably high levels of personal stress. That affects not only your ability
to lead, but your quality of life.

your personal score is…



than 20 points


high and dangerous personal stress levels



personal stress levels; reduced quality of life



personal stress levels; adequate quality of life, but room for improvement



consistently manageable personal stress levels; high quality of life







Note that blind spots can pop up when you least
expect them, even in the areas where you imagine yourself and your company to
be the least vulnerable. Companies often “fix” a blind spot, but find that it
returns over time. Why does that happen? Creating self-sufficient team members
and departments is the ultimate goal of any effective leader. That means people
and teams make important decisions in areas you’ve specifically delegated to
them—which is as it should be. Yet as you grow in scale or bring in new people,
that very growth creates the possibility of a blind spot’s recurrence or of
brand new blind spots developing—new problem areas of which you and other
company leaders aren’t aware. The fact that there were no blind spots in a
given area the last time you checked is no guarantee that there are no blind
spots right now!

Most of the leaders I share this test with
acknowledge that dangerous blind spots do exist in their world – but they haven’t
yet taken on a personal commitment to change the status quo. Unfortunately,
just knowing about a blind spot is not enough. Overcoming one, in our
experience, takes commitment, patience, and a willingness to work with a
personal coach. But the effort is one of the best investments you can make in
yourself and your company.

is the CEO and President of Sandler Training, an international training
and consulting organization headquartered in North America. Since 1986, he has
been a trainer and business consultant for management, sales, interpersonal
communication, corporate team building and strategic planning throughout the
United States and Europe. A Wall Street Journal bestselling author, his new
book is The Road To Excellence:  6 Leadership Strategies To Build a
Bulletproof Business. 
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