Editor’s Note: Thought leader Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a noted leadership coaching and management consultancy. Grace writes a regular column on Happiness & Leadership for WRAL TechWire. Companies hire her firm for coaching and consulting, as well as to facilitate HappinessWorks™ programs, infusing the happiness advantage into corporate culture, leading to higher productivity and results.
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RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – In a recent guest opinion column on the power of a 360-degree review, I shared the Warren Bennis quote: “Knowing thyself is the essence of leadership.”
This week I focus on the power of seeing through our blind spots to unleash new possibilities, thereby reaching our fullest leadership potential.
Do you know the one thing that if you changed in yourself, you’d have the ability to change the world?
Unfortunately, most of us are unaware of this one thing, as we innately have blind spots. And for many of us, it is more comfortable to keep these spots blind than to have them revealed to us. We are scared of understanding the issues that the world sees in us.
Consider this passage
“We all have blind spots in our knowledge and opinions. The bad news is that they can leave us blind to our blindness, which gives us false confidence in our judgment and prevents us from rethinking. The good news is that with the right kind of confidence, we can learn to see ourselves more clearly and update our views.
In driver’s training we were taught to identify our visual blind spots and eliminate them with the help of mirrors and sensors. In life, since our minds don’t come equipped with those tools, we need to learn to recognize our cognitive blind spots and revise our thinking accordingly.”
– Adam Grant, Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know
Blind spots to our weaknesses and strengths
Blind spots, when revealed and worked on, can transform us. We can have blind spots to the great talent that we hold, that we may not be harnessing. Some people (especially women: A virtuous cycle: confidence adds to happiness, and happiness adds to confidence!) may be so biased against being arrogant that they overlook or dismiss their own best qualities.
We are all born with a blind spot. The technical term, scotoma, is an obscuration of the visual field. Automobile technology utilizing camera, radar, and ultrasound, have advanced a great deal to assist in driving safety. Without the technical assistance, switching lanes and turning would be more dangerous. Shedding light on our blind spots can be life saving.
Psychological blind spots can be obvious to everyone but the person holding them, and often no one is willing to tell them. Either they are too close to the person and fear hurting their relationship or they could be a subordinate afraid of the wrath of their boss. In either case, the best gift for the person, the truth, often goes unsaid and the blind spot remains.
360 reviews: revealing and transformative
One way to reveal the blind spots in these situations can be by having an independent third-party conduct a confidential 360 and putting in place an action plan to address key issues. I’ve seen this transform many leaders for the better.
Hoping to improve their executive presence, a leader can hire a coach to help them be a better speaker. Having that coach observe their speaking and point out their blind spots does wonders. Simply making them aware of the number and types of filler words in their talks can transform the power of a speech. If you could hear all your own filler words, you would not sprinkle so many in!
Radical Open Mindedness
Opening up our blind spots requires us to be radically open minded. To not flee from learning the truth – both the good and the bad. This takes effortful work. Many of us fear unleashing our power. Marianne Williamson famously noted: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”
Our brain’s amygdala is naturally structured to avoid danger and has a subliminal defense mechanism to attack criticism and be defensive as a inbourne survival instinct. Our frontal lobes, part of the brain’s cerebral cortex, enable more rationality to help decision making in response to stress. For mild threats, the frontal lobes often override the amygdala so you can approach the situation rationally. But with some stronger threats, the amygdala triggers the fight or flight response.
Halo & Horn Effect
The biggest barriers to decision making are the ego and blind spots. Many of us have an innate need to be right. Our unconscious mind, which includes unconscious biases, makes 90% of our decisions, using past experiences to make assumptions. Confirmation bias or gathering data to confirm existing beliefs creates the halo/horn effect. Those who you believe are always right, however, may not always be right. And those that you dislike and are quick to dismiss, may have contributions that can be meaningful and transforming, but you are blind to them.
We tend to hire and enjoy associating with those who are like us. An old proverb says If you want something done well, you must do it yourself. Or you may hire someone just like yourself. We gravitate toward people most similar to ourselves. This is similarity bias which can limit new thinking and possibilities.
Truth Not Comfort or Comfortable Truth?
Being radically open minded requires humility, which is difficult for many leaders, but can be developed. By being close minded, you miss out on possibilities. This can be made easier if you remember that the joy of being right is not as long lived and valuable as the joy of learning the truth. Take the time to seek out better answers. The winner is the leader who learns new things and the loser is the leader who sticks to their opinion, blocks criticism, and always wants to be right. Instead of having all the answers; ask the right questions. Be open to the possibility you could be wrong.
Snap judgments are part of the human condition. How can we fight our human nature and outsmart our brain? I share six suggestions:
- Be open to opinions that go against what we want. The doctors giving opinions to Boston Celtics Reggie Lewis about his heart condition provide a classic example.
- Slow down thinking. Bring in more perspectives. Establish a 2 minute rule to explore an opposing point of view, rather than insisting on yours as definitely right with no interrupting, so others can get out their thoughts.
- Do not think of disagreement as conflict, rather discussion to get to a better outcome. Thoughtfully disagreeing can be the best teacher.
- Examine your network – how often do you go outside of your circle to “unconfirm” your biases? Open the door to your inner circle and invite new people in.
- Not only encourage new ideas, but give a seat AND a voice at the table.
- Be open and gracious to accepting praise as well as constructive feedback. Do not dismiss what people seem to be often complimenting you.
Finding greatest strengths
Your greatest strength may be unknown to you, and therefore not leveraged. Think about your reactions to these prompts:
- “People are always telling me that I’m…”
- “I get a lot of compliments about…”
- “People often thank me for…”
- “When my friends or family members are angry with me, they say that…”
- What am I afraid to know?
- What’s the one thing I least want to accept?
One CEO I coached often said to his people, “Feedback is a gift for which we say thank you.” Who will you ask and thank for feedback this week?
About Grace Ueng
Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003. Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” are what clients value most.
Grace’s core offerings are one-on-one coaching for CEOs and their leadership teams, facilitating workshops on Personal Branding and Speaking Success and conducting strategic reviews for companies at a critical juncture. A TED speaker, she is hired to give motivational keynotes and lead Happiness Works™programs for companies and campuses.
A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School.
Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, her MIT classmate and accomplished cleantech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity.