Overcoming Leadership Blind Spots

According to Robert Bruce Shaw, author of Leadership Blindspots, blind spots are unrecognized weaknesses or threats that can hinder a leader’s success. Weaknesses that we possess and that we know about aren’t likely to derail us from our goals. However, the weaknesses that we don’t know about are the dangerous ones.

Based on my experience as an organisational consultant, as well as what I’ve learned from the research of Shaw and Karen Blakeley (who is also an expert on the subject), I’ve found that one of the most common causes of leadership blind spots is pride bordering arrogance. This very ignorance generally manifests itself in the following ways:

1.    Overconfidence: A Silent Killer

Needless to say, excess to anything in life isn’t normal. The same goes for confidence. We, as professional leaders, must make a deliberate effort to normalize the talent and attributes associated with all the aspects of what we call ‘Talent’. The bell should start ringing when we see someone is committing an act or overdoing or overcommitting etc. As per EncyclopediaOverconfidence is an overestimation of one’s abilities and need for expended effort and an underestimation of the situational demands that one will face”. In fact, Overconfidence bias can destroy the company.

Willful blind spots occur when people are overconfident. For instance, some leaders only want to hear what they want to hear or read reports and data that they want to read. This can be extremely dangerous for an organization, because leaders need to be able to comprehend issues from various viewpoints. Confidence typically grows with past success, and it can lead to overusing the formula that provided results, thus creating blind spots on alternative solutions for the same goal.

2.    Masked Positivity: An Uncalled for Act

Being overly positive can also create blind spots. In such a “euphoric” stance about something, some leaders can’t rightly assess when and why other people disagree with their ideas. The common trap is that great leaders commonly champion and push ideas that go against the grain. I don’t believe we would recognize the names Ford, Gates, Jobs or Musk (no first names are required to know who we are speaking about) if they did not fight with a fierce commitment to their ideas and vision.

To me, positivity is essential to drive a vision and inspire and overcome problems. Still, we must also build checks into our processes and methods to identify elements that can present risks and other immediate threats.

Remember that a leader’s job is to ensure weaknesses and risks are taken care of long before they create problems.

3.    Power Corrupts

Although power is essential to taking charge and driving change, it makes leaders vulnerable to two traps that can not only erode their own effectiveness but also undermine their teams. Hubris — the excessive pride and self-confidence that comes with power — causes people to greatly overestimate their own abilities, while focus makes them less attentive to subordinates, diminishing their ability to lead successfully. A balanced relationship with power can seldom be developed overnight, but in time, leaders who follow this advice will boost their own effectiveness and facilitate exceptional performance from their teams.

Power or perceived power that is related to a position or title can create a level of over-confidence and, in many cases, a false perception that others expect the person with the title to solve unilaterally. That mistaken perception (itself a blind spot) will create other blind spots by shutting out different perspectives and potential solutions. Power-related blind spots can be exacerbated in times of crisis when immediate action is expected and required.

4.    Indecisive Leadership Style

Working with a few CEOs, I always wondered how they made it to that level with such poor decision-making ability. I’ve seen indecisive leadership sink more than a few ships. Our job as a leader is to make decisions that make things happen. That doesn’t mean we make decisions all by ourselves. The best leaders always involve a team in their decision-making. But we still need to make timely decisionthat what we are paid for. What makes decision-making hard at a senior leadership level is that someone’s neck is on the line.

Remember, delay leads to paralysis. And paralysis leads to stagnation and decline. Delayed decision-making demotivates the team. So make a decision, and create a process for making sure decisions get made regularly and quickly. Sure, every once in a while you need to take a long time to make a decision. But far too many leaders use that as an excuse.

5.     Solo Decision Makers

Every problem has a flip side, and the flip side of being indecisive is being overdecisive. Some leaders make instant decisions based on their gut feeling, without any input from anyone else, and that is also frustrating to their teams. I think it’s a good practice for every senior leader to be a part of something they don’t lead. I’ve e worked with a couple of organizations where the top man calls the shorts on everything. It helps me realize how the team feels being left out in the key decision-making process.

Xerox’s Barry Rand was right on target when he warned his people saying that “if you have a yes-man working for you, one of you is redundant”. As leaders, we don’t need to surround ourselves with ‘puppets’ or ‘yes minsters’. Let’s help create a healthy, lively, and thinking work culture. Encourage teams to bring forward newer ideas, come up with logical debate, and have the courage to say NO.

Wrap Up

Trust is the invisible thread that weaves through the fabric of successful companies. It’s the catalyst for effective connection, communication, and collaboration. To effectively navigate the intricacies of today’s workplace, we need to be aware of the above key leadership blindspots that hinder trust, and then be intentional about overcoming them.

When we lead, we are certain about the incredible responsibility we have assumed toward the organisation and our teams. Always remember that leadership, by definition, is not a solo sport. We’re leading people, and how we do it ultimately determines how effectively we perform as leaders. It also means we need to become exceptionally self-aware of our weaknesses. If we think about it, the leaders we’ve probably liked the least have been the least self-aware. 


Muhammad Sajwani
Muhammad Sajwani
Muhammad Sajwani is a management consultant and a corporate trainer working in the capacity of Managing Director, Evolve HR Consulting. Muhammad is amongst the prominent management practitioners in Pakistan and brings along thirty years of local & international experience as a practitioner of Appreciative Inquiry philosophy. His ability to relate with people from diverse backgrounds and occupations is his core strength. He is a leading inspirational speaker and change catalyst specializing in unleashing the human genius through Leadership, Creativity and Change Management. As a facilitator he is able to excite peoples’ imagination and inspires them to strive for extraordinary achievements. He encourages participants to focus on their ability to become what they desire by leveraging the power of human passion that is guided by a set of principles, values and ethics. His uncanny intuitive capacity helps him recognize team dynamics and build synergies. This has made him a sought after trainer for ‘Team building’ programs. Muhammad has been instrumental in helping organizations come to terms with organizational changes like right-sizing and business process re-engineering. His innovative approach & high personal competence encourages people to not only accept change, but also to excel in it. Over the years, Muhammad has developed many branded training products which can be customized to meet specific requirements of companies operating in different countries & cultures. Muhammad has diverse experience in conducting strategic & management development programs, conferences & events for organizations across sectors. Muhammad has been engaged as senior consultant and facilitator with a multitude of for-profit and not-for profit entities such as Aga Khan Development Network, Hospitality companies, Medical Institutions & many others. Muhammad Sajwani holds an MBA in Marketing and has worked for finest organization within and outside Pakistan i.e. Telenor, Jazz and Grameenphone, and travelled extensively & regularly attends courses in Pakistan & abroad.

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  1. Brilliant article from which everyone can learn what it means and how important it is to know yourself thoroughly but also, in the case of leadership, it also means putting yourself in a position to relate to the personality of your collaborators.
    We all have blind spots, gray areas where shortcomings and mistakes lurk: those of the leaders, if repeated or ignored, can lead to the failure of organizations. Blind spots represent the gap between how managers think they behave and how their employees actually perceive their behavior.
    Very often the critical point where most leaders fall is, for example, the low frequency with which they give a praise or the lack of sincerity, evidently assuming that the collaborator is only doing his duty. Likewise, not recognizing one’s mistakes impacts on the motivation of collaborators to give their best. And then the absence of listening, the inconsistency, never or only rarely being honest and reliable towards others.
    We are talking about what is essential to create a relationship of real trust: the latter is the foundation of any interpersonal relationship. It relies on more than just telling the truth when asked, and leaders who are aware of this are well on their way to creating a culture that encourages employees.
    In summary I would say that each leader, if he wants to operate at his best, must have the primary objective of building his own self-awareness!!