In Change, Leaders

“Know thyself.” – Socrates

It’s not a secret that we all have blind spots regarding our behaviors & capabilities.  Leaders aren’t immune to that condition.  I’ve lost track of how many leaders I’ve watched do and/or say things that made everyone else cringe while they had no idea there was any problem whatsoever.

There are different kinds of blind spots.  I know a lot of leaders who say something to the effect of “I know I sometimes mess up or say the wrong thing or say something damaging without realizing it, so when that happens please say tell me so I can fix it.”  A noble statement.

One of the problems with that statement is that as a leader you can request that kind of honest feedback, but it can be hard to find people in your organization who’ll give it.  After all, who wants to look like they’re criticizing the boss?

There is another kind of blind spot that I think is much more challenging to deal with because it isn’t about making a random mistake, but rather gets at our core self-image.  I’ll illustrate it with an example.  Not that long ago (and a number of times over the years) I witnessed an individual in a leadership role performing a basic job function, and do it very poorly.  Poorly to the point that it would have been funny if it wasn’t so sad.

Afterwards, the individual in question made a comment that they enjoy that particular job function, mostly because they’re so good at it.  I’d witnessed enough struggles over the years that I finally realized that no, he wasn’t any good at it.  It wasn’t just that he’d had a bad day – he was legitimately terrible.  So I had to tell him.

At first he didn’t believe it, so he asked some other members of his team.  Reluctantly, they all agreed.  He was borderline devastated.  All these years he thought he was a master, and all these years he was actually a disaster.  To his credit, he eventually pulled himself together and determined to work to elevate his performance in that area.

The point is this:  don’t take for granted that you have an accurate picture of yourself.  Some people are more self-aware than others, but we all need help.  Who’s helping un-fog your mirror?  Who trusts you enough to be completely honest, not just about one-time mistakes but ongoing weaknesses?  If you’re not sure, then the answer is no one, and that’s a dangerous place for a leader to be.

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