Leadership Blind Spots: What We Can’t See and Why We Need to Know

I’m in the process of teaching my teenaged daughter how to drive. Actually, my husband is doing most of the teaching, and I’m observing the fruits of his labor now that I feel safe enough to ride along with her with my eyes uncovered. (It can be a scary place, that passenger seat!) Recently, she had an experience driving that I think perfectly sums up what it’s like to know yourself to lead yourself, a concept we spend a lot of time talking about at GiANT.

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We were en route to our neighborhood grocery store in late-afternoon traffic. As we approached the store, she turned on her blinker, glanced in the rear view mirror and began to edge over into the center turn lane. “Wait! There’s a car!” was my immediate response, having noticed another, smaller car close behind that I knew she couldn’t see. We escaped disaster, made it safely to the parking lot and afterward my daughter said, “That car! It came out of nowhere — I never saw it.” Thus concluded her first lesson in what what a blind spot is.

By their very nature, blind spots are areas where our view is blocked — we literally cannot see what’s on the other side of them without some help. How that translates to our leadership capacity is this: We all have tendencies and patterns of behavior that are unique to our personalities. In the same way we’re born with our eye color or preference to use our left or right hand, we also come into the world with a hardwired predisposition to communicate and make decisions in certain ways.

I, for example, am a good listener and like taking care of the people around me. It’s easy for me to bring support to those I lead, in other words. What’s not so easy, I have discovered, is bringing challenge. I don’t like conflict or arguing against another person’s views, and I want people to like me, so my natural default has often been to avoid being the opposition and work, instead, to keep the peace.

The inherent problem with this tendency is that no one can grow without the calibration of both support and challenge. Without the ability to help the people I lead see where they need to grow, I’m really doing them a disservice. They won’t ever be able to reach their full potential if all I ever say is, “That’s a great idea,” without also being prepared to challenge them if I disagree.

In GiANT terms, we work to become Liberators (see image below) and fight for the highest possible good of those we lead by bringing an equal measure of support and challenge. When we do this, we empower others. But here’s the catch:

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It’s not easy to grapple with things we don’t naturally do well. Even harder is discovering what those things are in the first place. Unless we ask the question, “What’s it like to be on the other side of me?” we won’t ever know. And this is a question that can’t be asked in a vacuum.

Until my daughter’s near miss, she didn’t know what she didn’t know. Now she’s careful to adjust her side view mirrors before she leaves the driveway, and she’s extra cautious changing lanes. Our leadership is exactly the same. We need other people to help us see what we, alone, can’t. And we have to be intentional in learning how to adjust our behavior so we don’t over-protect or dominate the people we lead. For me, it’s taken practice to get better at bringing challenge. It will never be as easy as the support side of the equation, but I keep at it because I want the people I lead to know I’m for them.

How aware are you of your leadership blind spots? Do you know if you dominate or protect others, rather than empower? What are your tendencies? Leaders worth following engage these questions to know themselves better.

Are you ready? Join us at GiANT for the journey. Questions? Email me at amy.norton@giantworldwide.com.


Image credit: David Marcu