When you first learn to drive, do you remember learning about blind spots? The driving instructor likely emphasized it repeatedly.
I can remember my driving instructor saying, “Check your blind spot before you change lanes. Your life depends on it and so does mine!”
They are called blind spots for a reason. They are not visible, not readily apparent, and are easily missed.
The Need For An Early Warning System
“Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others.” –Jonathan Swift
You discuss the balancing act that all leaders face. That is the need to be both supremely confident and yet also see situations accurately with no distortion. It’s always easy to look in the rear view mirror and judge leaders, but how does a leader know early enough to change course?
Leaders need warning systems that signal trouble ahead. Savvy leaders, for example, have a group of trusted advisors whose role, in part, is to surface vulnerabilities that a leader may overlook. Or, some leaders assign “sentinels” to track data on emerging competitive threats and report out periodically on what they are finding. I also describe in the book ongoing leadership practices that are useful in seeing threats early in the game, such as having regular contact with customers and front-line colleagues. These techniques don’t tell a leader if and when to change course – but they provide the information needed to make that decision.
Levels of Blindness
You have a chapter on this, but I want to ask: How do you spot a blindspot if you are blind to it?
Keep in mind that there are levels of blindness. There are times when leaders are completely blindsided by a weakness or threat and other situations when they are partially aware of a weakness or threat but fail to understand its potential impact or the need for action. That said, you can simply ask a few people who know you well if they think you have any blindspots. You then probe in specific areas as needed – for example, blindspots in how you view your own leadership team or the capabilities of your organization. Ask for specific examples in each area they identify. Another approach is to examine the mistakes you have made over your career and look for patterns in the causes of those mistakes. If repeated over time, mistakes are valuable in pointing to an unrecognized weakness that will most likely surface again in the future.
Critical Leadership Skill: Peripheral Vision
Seeing what others miss—what you call peripheral vision—is a critical leadership skill. What techniques help improve a leader’s peripheral vision?