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Lead Your Team Leadership

5 Leadership Blind Spots (and How to Overcome Them)

5 Leadership Blind Spots (and How to Overcome Them)
Credit: lassedesignen/Shutterstock

Even the most effective leaders have flaws. Unfortunately, many leaders don't know what those flaws are or how to fix them.

No one understands this better than Robert Bruce Shaw, a consultant with Princeton Managing Consulting Group in New Jersey, who has been helping business leaders come to terms with their imperfections for more than 20 years. Shaw's new book, "Leadership Blindspots: How Successful Leaders Identify and Overcome the Weaknesses That Matter" (Jossey-Bass, April 2014), pinpoints many of the weaknesses, or "blind spots," that can trip up even the best of leaders.

Here are the top five blind spots plaguing today's executives and a few tips on how leaders can identify the flaws that hold them back. [Modern Business Leadership: 4 Challenges and How to Overcome Them]

The strategic thinking blind spot

"Many leaders are better at managing operations than thinking strategically," Shaw said. "However, these leaders can't always see that this is the case."

Shaw noted that leaders who overestimate their strategic capabilities can face serious problems when they're promoted into more senior level roles. Such roles put a premium on identifying and acting on new growth opportunities, which is something that's hard to focus on if you're bogged down in managerial tasks.

"Instead of thinking strategically, a leader with a strategic capability blind spot spends most of his time on operational issues and resolving near-term challenges," Shaw said.

In the most extreme cases, Shaw said a business leader can get so lost in operational details that he or she never develops a broader, more strategic view for the business.

The know-it-all blind spot

Have you ever had a boss who thinks he or she knows more than everybody else about everything and anything? That boss may have been a victim of the know-it-all blind spot.

Executives with this particular weakness don't take others' points of view into consideration, even regarding minor issues, Shaw said. They may think it's OK to interrupt people when they're speaking and always seem to find fault in what others are proposing.

"When given a choice between being right and being effective, the preference of some leaders is to be right," Shaw said.

But for these leaders, relying only on their own opinions can backfire.

"Focused on action and confident in their own abilities, these leaders don't fully explore options or risks before moving forward with a plan of action," Shaw said.

The unbalanced blind spot

This next blind spot, which Shaw describes as an inability to balance the "what" with the "how," actually occurs in two directions. Some leaders with this particular flaw place excessive emphasis on results. This makes it hard for them to see that they're creating a "win at all costs" mentality within their organizations.

On the other hand, some leaders susceptible to this blind spot focus too much on how well their employees work together and don't place enough emphasis on delivering results.

"In both of these cases, the leader doesn't see the lack of balance that exists between what an organization needs to achieve and how it goes about achieving it," Shaw said.

The assumption blind spot

It's an age-old bit of wisdom, but it's one that leaders tend to forget: Don't assume anything about anyone, ever. Many executives make the mistake of assuming that other people are just like them.

"These leaders have a flawed understanding of how others think and what they value," Shaw said. "This includes a tendency to think that others are like themselves, particularly in regards to what motivates them, how they make decisions and what their preferences are in dealing with conflict."

Shaw said that this propensity for assumption can lead to poor decisions and weak work relationships. 

The stuck-in-the-past blind spot

This weakness is one that many people fall victim to from time to time: thinking your past experiences can help you fix a problem that's going on right now. While it's true that learning from the past is useful, some take this kind of thinking too far. 

"For leaders with this particular blind spot, new challenges are viewed as being similar to past challenges and addressed as such," Shaw said. "This means applying proven methods that do not fit the current situation. While this works in some cases, it results in failure when a leader fails to see that a new challenge is very different than those of the past."

As Shaw explained, this blind spot comes about because leaders mistakenly think that they've been promoted because of the way they did things in the past, rather than their potential for doing an even better job in the future.

Seeing past the blind spots

While every leader is uniquely flawed, there are a few tools that all leaders can use to see past the blind spots that are holding them back. Shaw suggested trying one of these strategies to overcome your blind spots and lead more effectively.

  • Have a warning system in place. As a leader, you need at least one person, someone you trust in regard to his or her capabilities and motives, who is first among equals in offering you feedback that prevents you from being blindsided, Shaw said.
     
  • Build a good team. Shaw advised having a diverse team of smart people around you who are willing to engage in "productive fights" on the best path forward.
     
  • Assess yourself. Establish robust processes — such as 360 surveys or skip-level interviews — that point out areas of potential weakness that you don't recognize or act on, Shaw said.

Originally published onBusiness News Daily

Elizabeth Palermo
Elizabeth Palermo

Elizabeth writes about innovative technologies and business trends. She has traveled throughout the Americas in her roles as student, English teacher, Spanish language interpreter and freelance writer. She graduated with a B.A. in International Affairs from the George Washington University. You can follow her on Twitter @techEpalermo or .