We’ve seen it time and time again. Great leaders, mediocre leaders and weak leaders all seem to have one thing in common; a blind spot when it comes to their employees. It doesn’t seem to matter how one arrived to their leadership position, or their background; somehow once a person is leading an organization, they lose their ability to see the full picture of the organization.
The problem is leaders become removed. Not by choice but by design. Leaders lose the ability to connect with front line employees and fail to find out what the true issues are, the people who deal with the customers on a daily basis, who act as brand ambassadors and who drive the organization forward.
How Blind Could I Really Be?
To help explain the power of this leadership blind spot phenomenon, we are going to use the example of the famous Johari’s window created by Luft and Ingham. They took four quadrants and divided them into how we and others see us. Sometimes it’s described by using rooms:
Room 1 is the part of ourselves that we see and others see.
Room 2 is the aspects that others see but we are not aware of.
Room 3 is the most mysterious room in that the unconscious or subconscious part of us is seen by neither ourselves nor others.
Room 4 is our private space, which we know but keep from others.
Now let’s put this in organization terms:
Room 1 is the obvious, things employees should know and the leadership knows. Things like the vision, mission and objectives of an organization.
Room 2 is the leadership blind spot. These are things leaders do not know, but for their staff it is fairly obvious. This may include issues such as no one talking to HR because of a lack of trust or that some employees are looking to leave because of micro-managers.
Room 3 is the unknown. This relates to events happening under the surface in the industry or at the Board level that no one has visibility of. There is no point in trying to figure it out, one cannot possibly know everything.
Room 4 is the leader’s plans. These are all the decisions and thoughts a leader may have, such as restructuring, cost cutting or being acquired, that the rest of the world doesn’t need to know yet.
Of all these rooms, Room 2 is where leaders should put their effort to minimize their blind spot as much as possible.
What Could a Leader Be Missing?
Here are some of the things we’ve found in leadership blind spots when we conduct organizational reviews or current state assessments:
- Profit erosion
- Loss of market share
- Cost overruns
- Increased Risks
- Negative culture
- Low Morale
Are These Blinders Permanent?
No, leaders can see again, but it can take quite a bit of effort. Leaders will have to judge the most effective and efficient way to remove the blinders. Is it lunch with a different staff member every week to get the scoop? Is it asking a trusted member of the leadership team to uncover these issues? Is it hiring an outsider to do an objective review? The possibilities are numerous, it really depends on the investment a leader is willing to take to eliminate that blind spot.
Awareness if the first step. By acknowledging that they don’t know everything important that could be affecting their business, leaders will be much more likely to learn more. Second, leaders should try different strategies to find the best way to uncovering Room #2. It could be that multiple strategies must be taken, depending on how far one wants to dig. Through acknowledgement and investigation, leaders will be in a much better position to unlock some keys to their organizations success that others see and they don’t.