The best leaders work tirelessly to reduce their blind spots—both in quantity and in severity. Douglas Stone and Sheila Heen’s fantastic book, Thanks for the Feedback, offers one simple but challenging step to effectively deal with blind spots. They suggest that our willingness to ask this most courageous question will expose our most pressing growth edges.
“What’s one thing you see me doing that gets in my own way?”
Ask the people around you, co-workers, subordinates, supervisor, significant others) this question and then just listen—without being defensive or trying to explain yourself. Start with the most trusted people in your life. Practice receiving their feedback, and then move up the ladder to others—coworkers, bosses, subordinates, family, and friends. Hearing about our unfiltered blind spots may be uncomfortable, but I am confident that we become better leaders because of the insight we gain.
After reading Thanks for the Feedback, I got brave and asked my direct reports, “What’s one thing you see me doing that gets in my own way?” They had no hesitation in pointing out some blind spots! One theme was this: I have a tendency to “offer your opinion too quickly.” —a polite way of saying I tended to direct instead of deploy and I was overwhelming people with too much information. On the one hand, they often found the information helpful, but more often the sheer volume of my input was either demoralizing or intimidating and left them with inadequate room to come up with the strategy themselves.
I was shocked when I heard this. I confess, my internal reaction was something like, “Well, if you would just think of the right answers yourselves I wouldn’t need to help!!” But fortunately, I was able to recognize that this was a reflection of two poor initial reactions I was having to feedback: defensiveness and a bit of hurt pride.
However, after some time discussing this with others, I was able to see that this was truly a blind spot and was hindering my impact. Eventually, with coaching and continued feedback from my team, I was able to make progress on this issue.
This same path can work for you! Ask the question, gather data from several people, humbly look it over for themes and then share those results with people you trust: A friend, executive coach, counselor, family member. Then you can craft a plan to address what is likely a barrier between you and relational and vocational success.