It doesn’t matter how strong, experienced or connected we are as a leader, we all have blind spots. In fact John Maxwell would say “….if you answered no, you now know where your blindspot is.”

Maxwell defines a blindspot as “an area in someone’s life in which he continually fails to see himself or his situation realistically. This unawareness often causes great damage to the person and those around him.” As someone who has lived outside my country of birth for about 25% of my life and in several different unique cultural contexts I know the impacts of cultural blindspots. We think we understand but we don’t. We think we are understood but quite possibly we are not.

Traditional views of leadership, in the past, tend to imply that leaders are strong, independent people who rarely make obvious mistakes. They have reached a position in their career where others look to them for superior expertise. Although in some ways this may be true there is a risk that time and experience can make blindspots even darker and harder to see.

We have many blindspots

Research about leadership effectiveness, as seen through 360 degree processes, show us that there are some common blindspots.

  1. Doing things our own way and on our own (We don’t ask for help)
  2. Not aware of how our behaviour affects others (we impact positively and negatively)
  3. Knowing everything (we cant value being right above everything else)
  4. Avoiding challenging conversations with others (avoiding conflict)
  5. We blame others or find excuses (being a victim and not responsible)
  6. Too relaxed about commitments (we need to honour people’s time and space)
  7. Working against others (we cannot be driven by personal agendas)
  8. Distance and detachment emotionally (it can even look like emotional blackmail)
  9. Strong stances not taken (we lack commitment to strong principles and positions)
  10. Tolerance of compromise (low standards for performance – “its good enough”)

(Adapted from: The Top 10 Leadership Blind Spots, and 5 Ways to Turn Them Into Strengths)

So what to do about it!

Step One: Find out your blindspots

To be honest your closest friends and colleagues are not likely to tell you that you are too critical, impatient, conflict-averse or easily offended. You can ask them and some might gently share but it will be rare that you get the exact truth, warts and all. I strongly suggest that you use some form of anonymous 360 degree process to get clear feedback about how you are perceived by others. Unless your current relationships foster open feedback in an authentic way then you will get much clearer “truth” through these mechanisms. If you need help with such a tool please contact us for ideas.

Step Two: Build an Environment of Authenticity

We should aim to create a safe environment where colleagues safely share authentic truth about behaviour. We ultimately want to succeed and we want to achieve our goals. If there is an unidentified barrier then something is getting in the road. This might sound easier than it actually is. We all care about what others think about us and this is especially true in giving or receiving feedback. We worry about being too direct, too harsh and we worry the consequences of it. Even with our closest loved ones we can end up in conflict with sharp words that are deemed insensitive. We need to value feedback and people need to trust that sharing has no negative consequences. Everyone needs to feel safe to be open and also vulnerable. Vulnerability and authenticity needs to be valued as a strength.

Step Three: Use some specific strategies

Diverse and unorthodox thinkers: We need to build a team of diverse thinkers who think outside the box and do not approach leadership in a traditional or self-limited manner. Sometimes problems are best solved by three steps forward and two backwards. Steps sideways. Unconventional and unusual moves. We need to value unorthodox approaches. Yes of course a straight line is always preferred but lets stay open to alternatives. Traditional decision making, in the past, tended to be direct, decisive and not always consultative. Why not start being consultative then move to implementation in a direct and decisive way.

Triggers: We all have triggers, situations and environments that encourage blindspots.We impulsively react similarly in certain situations. If we can master these triggers we can then master behaviour that is effective and authentic.

Mentors and Coaches: We need a “mirror.” We need someone who can help shine a light on blindspots that we may not be aware of. Have this conversation with a trusted coach and mentor. Invite them to help you see what is happening when you cant.

The flip side of every blind spot is a strength, and always presents an opportunity for growth. Being courageous does not mean being un approachable. Being courageous can be knowing when we are “on fire” (positively) or literally “burning down the house.”

We would argue that cultural factors exponentially increase the number of blindspots for global leaders. The filters on communication and understanding are more significant than it may seem. We need to be articulate and perceptive, looking through cultural lenses, so that we see the world in ways that makes global leadership effective.

Some of the “strongest leaders” often think they are more strategic than they actually are. They think they are more effective, admired, understood and articulate. As global leaders we should remain confident and determined but we need a mirror and to constantly reflect on what we might not be getting quite right.

CEO and Education Expert Greg Parry

Internationally renowned for his expertise in education leadership, Greg Parry’s vast experience includes leadership of projects for edu-cation institutions throughout Australia, the Middle East, the United States, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and China. Recognised for his numerous contributions in the education arena, Greg has received the Ministers Award for Excellence in School Leadership based on improvements in school performance and a range of successful principal training and leadership development programs, as well as the School of Excellence Award for Industry/School Partnerships and the School of Excellence Award for Technology Innovation. His company GSE (Global Services in Education) has been recognised as having the Best Global Brand in International Education in 2015 and 2016.

Considered one of the premier experts in his profession, Greg has trained teachers and principals throughout the world in areas such as critical thinking, language development and leadership. His expertise in school start up projects, leadership and curriculum development, has made him a sought after authority in these disciplines.

Global Services in Education set up and operate schools in all parts of the world. Governed by a philosophy of global citizenship, every member of the GSE team shares a passion to help shape international education and student achievement through inspiration and collaboration.
Our goal is to meet the highest objectives of every school, teacher, student and parent, with an unwavering dedication to quality education, shared ideals and intercultural perspectives.