You don’t know what you don’t know. And that can trip up the best leaders out there. “Everyone has blind spots. And for any leader who thinks they do not, THAT is a blind spot,” says Ash Beckham, activist, speaker, inclusive leadership expert and author of “Step Up: How to Live with Courage and Become an Everyday Leader.”
“You need to do the work to figure out what you do not see to fully step into your power as an inclusive leader. Having the blind spot is not a fault. An unwillingness to examine your blind spots or thinking you are too woke to have them is indefensible.”
“It is important to know what we have a tendency to miss because it can lead to employees not feeling understood, leaders missing vital information, miscommunication or running into problems that could have been avoided,” adds leadership coach and author Suzanne Wylde.
Ready to dig deeper so you can identify your own blind spots and become a better leader? Beckham and Wylde shared their best tips to help you on that journey.
1. Don’t equate being a strong leader as appearing all-knowing
To expand your awareness, you need to be willing to ask yourself and others questions. So thinking you’re supposed to know it all just because you’re in a leadership position won’t be conducive to identifying blind spots.
“Many of us have been raised to think of leaders as confident people who hold all the answers rather than people who ask a lot of questions and stay open to changing course,” according to Wylde. “We might think that we’ll appear weak or indecisive, but if we avoid asking questions we may be heading in the wrong direction or with the wrong strategy.”
2. Question where you get information from
“Is your social media feed filled with people who look, see and act just like you do? When faced with a challenge at work, do you only seek advice from a small circle or do you bring people to the table with varied experiences and perspectives? Broadening the scope of how you are informed allows you to see valuable resources you previously missed,” says Beckham.
Remember that you’ll most likely have to go out of your way to access different perspectives. But it is well worth it.
3. Examine what you avoid
Beckham also suggests examining what you avoid. This can take the shape of a more existential fear or a task you keep procrastinating on.
“What is that one thing that keeps getting pushed to the following week on the to-do list? Is it a conversation you do not want to have or a report you just cannot seem to sit down to write? Dig in and find out what is holding you back. When you get to the source of your avoidance, you see what weaknesses you need to strengthen,” she says.
4. Analyze situations in hindsight
You may already be used to taking the time to debrief after an important project wraps up, but it’s also worth investing energy in analyzing your own thoughts and actions in hindsight.
“If a project or meeting didn’t go the way you thought it would be based on your actions, be curious about what happened. You may want to replay it in your mind, imagining you are one of the other people involved,” suggests Wylde. “Wonder what that person thought was happening, what their goal was, what they thought you knew.”
5. Give yourself some grace
That being said, when exploring your own blind spots, giving yourself grace is so important. You will discover shortcomings. That doesn’t mean you should beat yourself up over them or aim for perfection.
“Beating yourself up over what you did not see is not helpful. If you are willing to begin taking the necessary steps to make the change, you are on the right path. But it will not be without a few stumbles along the way. Progress, not perfection, is our measure of success,” according to Beckham.
6. Don’t make it other people’s responsibility
It’s equally crucial to take ownership of this inner work journey. Sure, asking for feedback is a helpful tool. But you can’t expect others to point out your blind spots for you all the time.
“It is good to want to be held accountable, but ultimately it is our own responsibility to work through these areas and to stay aware of them. We would never want to blame someone else for ‘allowing’ us to miss something because of a blind spot, because no one else can know what we’re thinking or what information we’ve taken in,” says Wylde.
“It is no one’s job to tell you where you fall short. Certainly, if you are open to honest feedback it can be a helpful tool, but it is your job to take responsibility for your own gaps. We need to do the work to figure out where we fall short of the complete leader we want to be. Change that is internally motivated to become a better version of ourselves is much more authentic and sustainable,” adds Beckham.
7. Seek out help if you need it
However, if you feel like you need additional guidance, it’s appropriate to seek out support in the form of a coach or mentor who will help you gain greater insights.
“If you need additional support, whether from a coach or another expert, don’t hesitate to seek that out. There is no added value to toughing it out or going it alone if you need some feedback or guidance. Be a great leader by modeling how to rely on experts and stay open to your team,” says Wylde.