Blind spots. We all have them. I’m not talking about the weaknesses you know about, but the ones you don’t. Do you know how they impact your effectiveness on the job?
Executives who don’t know their blind spots are vulnerable to significant missteps. You may be amazingly smart and extremely capable but not knowing and compensating for a blind spot can wreak havoc in your business and your career. Fortunately, there are antidotes.
One of the most consistent observations I have made during 30 years of consulting with large and small company companies alike is that all executives have blind spots. And while most highly successful executives acknowledge this, few can precisely describe their blind spots. These two facts make sense when you realize it’s difficult to describe something about yourself that you cannot see. This leads to the question: If we never know what our blind spot is, how do we identify it and correct for it? For those that we manage and lead, how do we help them identify and deal with the blind spots that are stifling their careers and professional potential?
SIMA (System for Identifying Motivated Abilities) gives us profound insight into the subject of blind spots. In fact, once SIMA helps you truly grasp the power and pervasiveness of your core, innate strengths, blind spots begin to make much more sense. Think of blind spots as the shadow cast by your strengths. The very motivations and abilities that power you to succeed also create a vacuum or a void in other areas that are probably invisible to you. In some respects, blind spots are intimately linked to your weaknesses. Said differently, these are the things you are not motivated to take notice of, or take action on.
The CEO’s Strength & His Blind Spot
I worked with a CEO who excelled at public speaking and presentations, but lacked motivation to administer and mind organizational details. He thought he communicated well, and he did; but he was soft on execution, implementation, and follow through. A woman, a CMO, had strength as a trainer. She trained her staff and motivated them well. But without realizing it, she had stopped learning and much of the training she shared with her staff was out-of-date. And then there was the savvy VC investor with great analytical capabilities, who had a blind spot when dealing with charismatic entrepreneurs. He usually made wise investments in early stage companies, however, most of his failures were linked to his blind spot -when force of personality would trump his cold, hard, analysis.
Knowing the exact size and shape of your strengths enables you to fully leverage them, AND it minimizes the tendency to generalize your abilities beyond their limits. A lawyer and friend of mine is fond of the saying “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.” The truth is, none of us are really good judges of our own strengths or weaknesses or blind spots. A process such as SIMA provides objective identification of your true motivations and strengths. Once you have that information, whatever is not on the list is likely to be a blind spot or weakness.
For example, I worked with one CFO who excelled in crisis situations. Going through a crisis, almost any crisis, got his juices flowing and charged him up to think smarter and act sharper. The SIMA process confirmed that he thrived on challenges and crises, but he had a blind spot in planning. He thrived on the proverbial fire drill and had little motivation to plan out routine events and circumstances. Over time his company endured some unnecessary problems largely due to his love of crises and his low motivation to engage in planning. As you might imagine, his low motivation literally fueled his high motivation area -a classic blind spot.
You Can’t Deal With What You Don’t See
We are literally unable to see or perceive the importance of things that we are not motivated and capable of doing. Our work with SIMA has found that executives with limited motivation for communication don’t see themselves that way about 50% of the time. Many of them think they communicate well when in fact their beliefs about their own communication prowess are wildly out of synch with reality. Likewise, executives who have little ability to influence or lead others are often baffled by the fact that people won’t follow them. Their blind spot causes them to confuse their ability to correctly understand the right strategic direction with the ability to inspire, motivated, and lead others by example.
Know Your Subordinates’ Strengths
In the timeless classic, The Effective Executive, Peter Drucker argues that CEOs must manage by leveraging their strengths. Drucker says CEOs need to understand and leverage their innate abilities, and that there is little to be gained by focusing on weaknesses. Furthermore, CEOs must become skillful at identifying and leveraging the skills of their subordinates and the people around them. It does little good to demand that your direct reports spend more time and energy on things they don’t do well. And yet, when I’ve asked CEOs what their direct reports love to do and really thrive at, most CEOs shrug their shoulders. They don’t know.
Understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and blind spots of subordinates is essential if the CEO is to fully leverage the skills and talents of their people and make the business as successful as possible. It’s the nature of blind spots to keep us stuck in ruts in which our efforts produce marginal results and we simply try harder rather than identify our blind spots and weaknesses and capitalize on our alternative strengths.
What You Can Do
Here are a few basic steps CEOs can take to thwart the negative consequences of blind spots.
- Start with yourself.
Use a proven assessment tool to identify your own strengths and blind spots.
- Track your time.
Objectively record how much time you actually focus on those strengths. Track your daily activities for 2-3 weeks. Record how much time you spend in areas of strength. Record how much time you spend in areas that are weaknesses or blind spots for you.
- Make adjustments.
Gradually change your schedule so that most of your time is devoted to working in areas of strength.
- Spread the wealth.
Identify other people in your organization who have a strength where you have a blind spot. Find ways to reorganize work to take better advantage of their strengths.
Effective leaders must know and be comfortable with their unique strengths. They also need to be equally aware of and accepting of their blind spots and shortcomings. Avoid the common mistake of discovering your blind spots, viewing them as priorities to fix, and spending less time on your strengths while you fix blind spots. The end result of this approach is nearly always going to be mediocre leadership and mediocre success. Know the blind spots and find others who can excel in those areas where you don’t shine.
SIMA® International is a worldwide group of consultants who use the proprietary assessment technology, SIMA®, to help our clients make the best possible “people decisions.”
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