Geoff, a client whose name I’ve changed to protect his privacy, is a successful entrepreneur. The business he started has grown impressively. He is visionary and passionately committed to his vision. He works tremendously hard.
Geoff is generally a nice person. He can be kind, compassionate, sensitive, and thoughtful. He’s relatable. And magnetically charismatic. Those are the things that propel him and his business forward.
Unfortunately, along with all those positive characteristics, he holds himself back with negative ones.
He is sloppy in his communications. He blames mistakes on everyone around him. He sees himself as the smartest person in the room and lets everyone else know it. He is unclear about his expectations and then gets angry at people for not meeting them. He loses his temper.
People who work for Geoff say that he is a charismatic visionary but a terrible leader.
Which is actually not that hard to correct except for one, complicating factor. Geoff thinks he’s a great leader.
“Look at what I’ve created!” He’ll say, speaking about his business. Geoff believes the business has grown, not because of the hard work and commitment of the people around him, but despite their incompetence.
Geoff has a blind spot. His version of the world looks different than his team’s. He doesn’t see what the people around him sees.
Which colors everything. When he went to a leadership training, instead of listening, he gave everyone else advice. When he reads another leadership book (and he reads a lot of them), it doesn’t improve the way he shows up as a leader, it simply increases his confidence in his own leadership, since now he knows even more about leadership.
But knowing about leadership is very different than being a good leader.
So what are your blind spots?
It’s a trick question. You can’t possibly know. That’s why they’re called blind spots. You can’t see them.
There’s only one way to uncover your blind spots: Ask the people around you.
Sounds simple, but there’s a problem and that problem is your very natural, totally understandable, denial. When someone gives you feedback about a blind spot, you will, most likely, get defensive.
Because when you receive feedback, your first, very natural, totally understandable response, is to assess the feedback and decide, for yourself, whether you agree with it.
You won’t. Since its a blindspot, your assessment will not line up with their assessment. Since you can’t see what they see, you’ll deny it and become defensive.
There’s only one way out of this conundrum: Total trust. Blind trust. You must stop judging the validity of feedback you receive.
The Feedback Process
Select a group of people who have an opportunity to see you in a variety of situations and ask them two basic questions:
- What do I do that helps me, you, our team, and the organization succeed?
- What do I do that makes it harder for me, you, our team, and the organization to succeed?
Of course, if you want people to answer you honestly, then they need to trust that they won’t be punished for telling you what they see. But if you’re in denial, you might push back against their insights, and that defensiveness will send a signal to everyone else that they should be nice, not truthful. And that won’t help you.
How a Coach Can Help
It’s why it’s helpful to have an outside, confidential person collect the feedback for you. When I coach people, I ask those questions myself, in private, so that people feel comfortable telling me the whole truth. Then I deliver that truth with clarity and compassion, while protecting the people who shared it with me.
So I asked the people around Geoff, people he suggested I ask, and they told me about the good and also the difficult. When I spoke with Geoff about it, he immediately began to defend himself, blaming everything on the people around him.
I sat quietly listening for a while and then, when he was done, gave him one additional piece of feedback.
“Geoff,” I said, “You’ve been speaking for seven minutes, and you offered me precisely nine reasons why this feedback is not valid. That’s as clear a sign as any that there is something important for you to see that you aren’t seeing. Let’s talk a little more about blind spots . . .”