I recently read about an eye-opening study about leaders’ blind spots regarding their own growing edges. The study — conducted over 15 years, with 500 leaders from throughout the world and including feedback from 10,000 of their peers — showed that when leaders were asked to name three areas where they could improve their leadership, and their peers were asked the same question (to identify three areas of improvement for the leader) in 80% of the assessments the leader’s and peers’ responses differed on all three of the identified areas for improvement. All three! In 80% of the cases!
Are we as leaders really that blind to where we need to improve? While the findings from this study — which suggest that for 8 out of 10 of us the answer is yes — are unexpected and a bit humbling, they also instantly brought to mind an experience I had a number of years ago with my senior team. We had all completed a standardized behavioral assessment and were comparing and discussing our results. I distinctly remember commenting that I thought my results were totally on the mark except for this one characteristic, and that wasn’t me at all. Almost in unison, the majority of my team instantly responded, “Oh yes it is!” Hmmm . . . blind eye, indeed.
So how does a leader go about revealing their blind spots, and actually using that information as a springboard for growth?
1. Recognize that identifying blind spots is a tool, not a test.
Understanding your areas for improvement is the first step in strengthening your leadership. This knowledge allows you to identify where to focus your energy to expand your influence and effectiveness as a leader. It is not a contest or a comparison. Each of us is a unique individual, with different strengths and areas for improvement.
2. It is not a debate.
They call them blind spots because you can’t see them! That means you may get feedback you don’t understand or agree with, or you think is not consistent with your intentions. Arguing that someone’s feedback is not accurate, trying to justify your actions, or stating that’s just “who you are” does nothing to strengthen your leadership. What it does do is make it less likely that people will offer you feedback going forward.
3. Find an objective conversation starter.
Standardized behavioral assessments can help start the conversation. In our organization we use the Predictive Index, however there are a number of well-researched options available. If you are concerned that people may “sugar-coat” their feedback to you, using the results of the assessment — which people can agree with, provide examples of, etc. — can create a “safe” way to start the conversation.
Are you turning a blind eye to your growing edges?
Maybe the best way to find out is to ask your people what they see.