Blind Spots

For many years, I have been intrigued that it is nearly impossible to see one’s self as others do. I focus on this conundrum from the standpoint of a leader, since leadership training is the center of my business. Many leaders are often not aware that they are deceiving themselves with ideas about how others are reacting to them.

Several years ago, Daniel Goleman (father of Emotional Intelligence) observed that leaders who are most deficient in Emotional Intelligence usually have the most significant blind spots.

I pondered the validity of Goleman’s observation for several years. Typically, when I asked leaders or students of leadership, whether Goleman’s observation is consistent with what they see in their environment, they enthusiastically agree, once they understand what Goleman was actually saying.

The idea is that leaders cannot know how others see them. Therefore, leaders with low Emotional Intelligence usually are unaware that they have this problem. They believe people at work are enthusiastically behind them and have complete respect in them as their leader. Of course, when you talk to the people being led, the exact opposite observation is closer to the truth. They typically observe the leader is simply clueless.

Why is it that leaders are often blind to their own incompetence? Is it hubris? Is it ego? Is it overdrive? Is it stupidity? I believe the truth is that all of these things are in play. For many leaders, the lack of humility is one of the most significant impediments to accurately see themselves.

In my work, I teach that the ability to build trust between people in an organization allows a leader to see him or herself more accurately than ever before. The reason is, when trust is high people are not afraid to tell the leader when he or she is acting like a jerk. In fact, people understand they will be rewarded for pointing out leader foibles when they occur. That means leaders who are able to accomplish an environment of high trust have a major advantage. Trust is like the surface of the mirror that allows leaders to be able to see themselves accurately.

If you want to understand how you are coming across as a leader, your best bet is to work on building an environment of higher trust. In my book, I describe reinforcing candor as a key method for doing this. I believe if people feel it is safe to bring up scary stuff, they will be more inclined to share their truth on a daily basis. When leaders reinforce people for speaking out, it allows trust to grow and gives them the opportunity to be able to view themselves as they never have in the past.

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