A core element of coaching is to shed light on a leader’s blind spots. Qualitative and quantitative data create the foundation and skilled coaches build on that in a trusting, collaborative partnership.
This may seem both obvious and redundant to the notion of blind spots. A common development need we see across clients of our coaching practice is an increase in self-awareness. The blind spot, and potential “derailer,” is when the leader’s self-perception is that of someone who is highly self-aware; who sees him/herself as operating with a high degree of emotional intelligence, and believes they understand how others perceive and experience them.
When the reality is that they are not particularly self-aware, it impacts how they manage themselves and their ability to discern what adjustments in style or approach may be needed in a given situation. Their motivation, and even their ability to change and grow as a leader, will be less if their self-perception is that they are an effective, empathic and self-aware person.
- Get data. New information generally brings insight. Best done by an objective, experienced third party and through valid methods that measure the behavior, style or preference that you are curious about.
- Seek feedback. Solicit input from trusted colleagues, constructive feedback from bosses and from your team and direct reports, conduct short debriefs after key meetings and interactions to learn from the perspective of others while it’s fresh.
- Practice reflection. When an interaction did not result in your desired outcomes, ask yourself what you might have done differently, might a shift in mindset or style or approach have yielded a different outcome, “hold up the mirror.”
Leaders, particularly new and emerging leaders, can significantly underestimate the impact their communication (including lack thereof), communication style, and their very presence has on those around them, particularly their teams.
The first two – related – communication areas that are commonly underestimated are frequency and clarity. It’s not unusual for leaders to feel “I’m communicating constantly” or “I’ve said this a hundred times what don’t people get about this”; and for their people to simultaneously feel “I’m in the dark” or “I’m not clear on our direction.” In the midst of a lack of information and communication, teams and employees fill the void, they make up stuff, and it’s not the good stuff.
- Work on your messaging and deliver it often, formally and informally. Preparation for regular communications forces us to get clear on the message, meaning and strategic direction. A leader’s internal clarity, with thoughtful and consistent communications, delivered in different ways and across different mediums, will help teams and organizations feel included and part of the plan. Engaging in a dialogue (town halls, small groups, skip level) and checking for understanding, seeking input, is exponentially better. These consistent efforts also give teams a clearer sense of who you are as a leader and what you value.
Another blind spot is leaders’ appreciation of the impact of their presence – energy, mood, comments, style – it all gets amplified when in a leadership position. A simple example of that “reverb” is commonly experienced when a leader offers an idea, and it’s taken as a directive or a decision that needs be executed when the intent was to open dialogue.
Your energy and mindset impact others, both positively and negatively. Not to be underestimated. Align this intention with working on self-awareness and notice what may shift in terms of relationships, morale, and results.
- Experiment and observe. Make minor adjustments in tone and/or style, be mindful of “how you are showing up,” and what you are projecting. Intentionally and unintentionally. Remind yourself to have an open mindset or assume positive intent, and approach situations with renewed curiosity. Be both participant and observer, stay genuine while making a few shifts and notice; observe changes in others.
Often times leaders will have spent considerable time deciding. Then, in the rollout, they forget that others in the organization don’t have the benefit of all that background and time. To avoid creating ongoing confusion, make “level setting” on a decision part of the effort. It shouldn’t be here is the decision, now just go do it.
- Build in good communication plans including dialogue and Q&A with people about the decision. It can take several rounds of communication and discussion so expect that. To be clear, this communication is not about revisiting the decision that has been made, but rather explaining it well.
- Be sure to include the business context. If your people understand the decision better, they’ll be able to execute more effectively and quickly. And, as importantly, understand their roles or places in the big picture.
Big Picture Thinking
We probably expect most leaders to have the big picture of things, but not all leaders do. Frequently, as “working managers” and “working leaders,” we get stuck with our heads down with lots and lots to do. Leaders need to have clarity on the 20,000-foot view and it’s essential that they bring that to their people. Employees want to know the “why?” of things – in essence, the big picture.
- To remedy this blind spot, make sure you have command of the big picture for your business unit or function. Have a good elevator speech prepared and look for the opportunities where you can integrate big picture thinking into your communications.
- If you believe the organization can do better at big picture communication, take the lead. Go get the information or work to have a role in creating it.
This is a classic blind spot. Leaders must get work done through others, but it can take time to delegate new assignments. The only way to scale and do big things is to have work done through others, leverage the collective resources of your team to have the most organizational impact. Get really good at – and comfortable with – delegating and the process of delegating.
- Be smart about what you delegate; make some good choices to get the delegating working; provide direction (they can’t guess what’s in your head); provide feedback in a timely manner they can adjust in approach or work product and understand your expectation
- Avoid micro-managing. Strike the right balance between giving direction and specifying the objective, and giving them the room and the trust to complete the job.
Acknowledging blind spots is the first step. Incorporate these practice strategies into an action plan on the path to successful leadership.Board | Executive Coaching | Leadership