Boxes on heads

I recall returning from a trip and driving through Atlanta. The roads of Atlanta are one of the most congested areas in the country. There were lots of other vehicles and I had to be super alert to what all those drivers around me were doing.

When was the last time you almost hit another automobile when you (or they) were attempting to change lanes? It probably happens more often when you are driving in a highly congested area.

Typically, this occurs when we don’t see another vehicle because it is in our blind spot – you know, that section of the roadway our mirrors don’t cover.

This phenomena happens to leaders as well – more often that you might realize.

Some of us (OK, all of us) have blind spots in our personality, character or style. We may be too nice, or give people the benefit of the doubt more often than not. We may not like to deal with conflict, so we either avoid it or act more aggressively to get it over with sooner. There are dozens of other examples.

We may have really inflated egos or other character traits preventing us from showing necessary humility. Author Tim Irwin outlined some of these in his excellent book DERAILED where he profiled the demise of a half dozen CEOs including Bob Nardelli’s departure from Home Depot, Dick Fuld, who presided over the collapse of Lehman Brothers, and Steven Heyer’s hasty ouster from Starwood Hotels.

The other kind of blind spot comes in the business or organizational information we are not seeing. There are several reasons for this including:

  • We are very steeped in history and view current business information through the lens of our past experiences, missing the implications for the present or future of our company;
  • We don’t want to do the hard work of asking (or being asked) deep or real thought-provoking questions that will shed more light on our situation
  • Our staff of loyal followers don’t want to give us bad news until they have absolutely no other choice;
  • We have a self-protectionist mentality and don’t want to admit a strategy was flawed, so we continue pouring more time or money into a set of tactics hoping for a different outcome.

Blind spots are not due to a lack of intelligence but rather due to the perspective we bring to the position we hold. The mirrors in our vehicle can’t provide a 360-degree look all around us, so we have to turn our head and actually look at what the mirrors don’t reveal to us.

Who do you allow in your life to inform you of your blind spots? Sometimes a coach can play that role; other times an informal board of advisors can provide feedback and healthy gut check. In most cases, our spouse or others who know us best can also give us some valuable input. My wife Judy is a good source of perspective for me.

Years ago, I remember hiring someone to work in my company. I thought she had the experience, expertise and character I needed. My mistake was not asking Judy to interview this person before I hired her. I knew I made a mistake when I invited my new hire to have dinner with Judy and me, and this new hire showed up in a cocktail dress! When we got in the car to leave the dinner, Judy looked at me and asked, “What were you thinking?”

Needless to say, this person didn’t last 3 months before we had a parting of the ways.

Since then, there is not a person I hire who does not spend time with Judy before any decision is made. She can quite effectively point out some of my blind spots.

So, I’ll ask again, who do you allow in your life to inform you of your blind spots? If you say you don’t have anyone, I’d advise you immediately work to find one or two trustworthy individuals who will shoot straight with you.

If you say you don’t need anyone, it is my hope that you come to a different realization sooner than later.

If you say you do have a person or a small team, that’s great! How effective are they? You can tell based on how recently they pointed something out you didn’t know. If they are truly out for your best interests, they will not hesitate to have the honest conversation with you.

We all need this – make sure you have this aspect of your life covered well so the blind spots don’t “come out of nowhere” and T-bone you.

Best regards,