Three questions you can ask as a leader that give other people permission to help you see your blind spots
So how clearly are you seeing things as a leader?
Truthfully, there are important things in leadership that all of us miss. One of the toughest challenges for those of us who lead is that every leader develops blind spots.
A blind spot is simply defined as an area where your view is obstructed.
You just don’t see things that are there. All of us miss things that are clear to any other person, but not to us.
It’s why you turn around first to check beside you when making a lane change.
It’s why you crane your neck at a stadium so you can see the field unobstructed.
It’s why you trimmed that tree near your front window so you can see the view.
You want to see clearly.
It’s not that most leaders want to create problems, it’s that they don’t see the problems they’re creating. We’re blind to them.
I know I am.
Here are some blind spots I’ve identified in myself over the years:
My personal style (which tends to land more on the truth side than the grace side) can unintentionally hurt or alienate people.
Casual comments I make can be mistaken as ‘directives’ by people around me, leading them to act on things I was simply asking questions about. (I’m the senior leader in our church and my words weigh more than I’d like them to sometimes.)
While being selective is important, I can sometimes be too picky about who I choose to move into senior leadership — sometimes backlogging the development of other leaders.
My attention to detail on matters I’m passionate about can be so minute that it becomes discouraging to some.
How did I learn about all these things?
I would love to say I was perceptive enough to figure them out on my own, or that the insight came as a result of enlightened thinking.
But that’s not the case.
I learned about all of these because someone told me. I wasn’t clever enough to see them on my own. That’s why they’re called blind spots.
The longer you lead, the more important it is to develop a reliable, honest, accurate feedback loop. (This post from Jeff Brodie is a must read for those of you trying to help a leader see a blind spot.)
Here’s the tension: The longer you lead and the larger your organization becomes, the less people will be naturally willing to tell you things you might not like to hear.
How do you overcome that?
Here are three questions you can ask as a leader that give other people permission to help you see your blind spots:
1. What am I doing that’s not helping our mission?
I try to ask this question regularly to the people around me.
Even if the answer is, “I can’t see anything right now,” making a habit of asking the question creates a culture of openness and mutual support.
It also signals to the team that the leader doesn’t think he or she is infallible.
2. What do I need to do to make sure you feel comfortable telling me what you see?
This second question is so necessary because often leaders won’t want to answer the first question truthfully. They’re too afraid.
It takes a lot of nerve for someone to give ‘honest’ feedback to a leader. When a leader is defensive, dismissive or even indifferent, the leader makes it so easy for the staff member to never speak up again.
By asking this second question, you show them you want feedback and you realize you might not always be easy to approach. And if you are easy to approach, you’ll find out soon enough. Either way, this question builds trust.
3. How can I help make it better?
Your job as a leader isn’t just to know something is wrong, it’s to leverage your influence or power to help make it right.
When your team member knows you really care about a good solution and are willing to do what you can to make it better, it goes a long way.
Questions like this can create an open, honest culture.
They will make you a better leader, and help your organization push past leadership lids.
What questions have helped you overcome blind spots? What are some tension points you continue to face?
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