The Blind Side – Professionally Speaking

This title will quickly bring up images from the recent movie of the same title. There are not many leaders who have incorporated a strong and powerful left tackle (for a right handed quarterback) who is positioned to protect them on their blind side. Unfortunately, most leaders don’t even know they have a blind side until the effects of it are near disastrous for them, their organization, or those they lead.

As an executive coach, I am frequently called in by the corporation to assist an executive or high potential leader developmentally, as they rise to the challenges that accompany their advancement and to help them avoid common pitfalls. I am also called in remedially, to assist executives who are struggling or on the brink of derailment because their blind side finally caught up with them.

The reason organizations spend so much time, effort and money in training, and coaching their leadership talent is they know how critical leadership is to their success. They also know that all leaders are humans with blind sides that must be discovered and corrected before they have disastrous effects. Additionally, they know that these initiatives are well worth the investment.

Why Some Leaders have a Blind Side?

1. Arrogance: these are leaders who are full steam ahead with their own agenda and oblivious to the impact on those around them until it is too late. The most recent example may be the political “shellacking” that happened to the Democratic Party. Some leaders truly believe that what got them to this new position will give them success in this new position. Keen observers of leadership effectiveness know that this is simply not true.

2. Personality: a leader’s personality or preferred style and approach to life and leadership is one of the greatest contributors to blindness, because even our strengths have a shadow side. One of my coaching clients had failed numerous times to achieve partner level in his firm. His 360 assessments suggested that people were not eager to follow and work with him on projects that required their contributions. However, they did not provide him sufficient information so that he could understand their concerns. After a couple of coaching sessions and some additional assessments, it became obvious that his preferred style and personality were part of the problem. He learned that he was pretty good at getting things done, but lacked the skills required to motivate and inspire the team. Additional coaching helped him develop strategies for developing and engaging an energized team. On his next 360 assessment he received a lot more positive feedback, which was required for him to be considered for partner.

3. Ignorance: these leaders may be leading from an old and outdated leadership philosophy. They may also be unaware of the increasing power of their words and actions as they advance to higher positions, and therefore find themselves unintentionally making missteps that are disastrous. One of my executive coaching clients who, on the brink of total derailment, said he truly did not know of any other way to lead. He embraced the coaching with a voracious appetite and modified his leadership style, which coincidentally, was much more in alignment with his own personal values. He is now leading from within his own core values rather than from an artificial philosophy. His CEO said he is now exhibiting everything he wants in a leader.

4. Entitlement: These are leaders who “paid their dues” and believe others should do the same, regardless of the effectiveness of the process. Some even believe their job entitles them to lead in an authoritative and intimidating style, because they believe that is what gets results.

5. Advanced without Development. These leaders often utilize a leadership style that contributed to their past success, but is no longer appropriate for their current position. Another executive coaching client had never received any coaching, training or development in his twenty years of executive leadership, and was just doing what he thought was best, which was leading to a career derailment. He was thrilled to learn new methods and styles of leadership.

6. Lack of Self-Awareness: They simply are unable to see their blind spots and the impact they are having on others. Some people believe that everyone sees (or ought to see) the world as they do, and are shocked when they learn otherwise.

7. Lack of Feedback: They have been allowed to advance (often because they got results) in spite of known deficits in their leadership style. Some leaders have positioned themselves to hear and receive only the praise and accolades of their followers, while ignoring the more negative messages. Too often they receive feedback that is not clear, specific and accompanied by the potential consequences that could motivate change. They have not opened the door to “truth tellers” who will be honest about how their leadership and their blind spots. Some actually terminate the truth tellers so they don’t hear the truth, because they are so convinced they are right.

8. Protecting the Blind Spot ONLY: It is good for the quarterback not to get run over by those defensive linemen, so they employee the left tackle. But protecting oneself from the damage that can come from the blind spot is not enough for exceptional leadership. These leaders have to make the necessary adjustments in their leadership approach if they hope to succeed.

9. Change without Change: The organization shifted and the leader did not! By the way, this excuse is often used by organizational leaders for their own failure to provide training, coaching, feedback and development that could salvage a great executive.

10. Complacency: These are leaders that have been so long in the role that they became too comfortable, stopped learning, and stopped adding value. They have become unable or unwilling to see the organization from the perspective required to make the changes necessary for continued success.

Every leader has their blind side. Have you discovered yours? Don’t wait until it raises its ugly head and you are on the brink of derailment before you do the work required to alter your leadership journey and stay on the trajectory of success. Engage an Executive Coach to help you discover your blind spots and learn new leadership strategies to achieve your goals and those of the organization where you are privileged to lead.

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