Who's in Your Blind Spot?

Posted on October 2, 2012.

Steve Tobak's recent blog on blind spots got me thinking about the blind spots so many managers and executives have around people, not just shortfalls around knowledge or politics.  I sometimes tend to exaggerate so I’ll say almosevery executive and manager I’ve worked for had at least one blind spot when it came to his or her employees.  See if you can see yourself in these examples:

John (not his real name) ran a large division of my former employer.  There were at least 3 of his direct reports that he thought walked on water, when everyone else hoped they would sink in the middle of the lake. Why was he so blind to their real selves?  John had a perception of what excellence looked like, talked like and acted like.  If you fit into his perception, nothing else mattered. You were a rock star in his eyes. It’s not that he didn’t see the value other people brought to the table, but you were always just a supporting player. Preconceived notions of what excellence looks like not only creates huge blind spots, but can often lead to bias in the workplace, as you can see in the next example.

Joan (not her real name) was one of my former managers and colleagues. Joan also had an image of what she thought success looked liked.  When I was leaving, she asked me who I thought was her blind spot and then proceeded to ignore me.  After I was gone, a friend of mine went to work in her region.  She asked him to fire one his employees, despite the fact that he was doing a great job. Why?  Because he was obese. My friend had enough strength of character and personal courage to ignore her but like John, Joan’s image of success created a huge blind spot in her judgment of talent and ultimately led to bias.

Flattery will often get you anywhere.  As a manager, I was not immune to employees who “sucked up” to the boss.  You often feel so alone as a manger that any positive attention feels like a warm blanket on a cold day.  And so while I’d like to think I had no preconceived bias of what “success” looked like, I was blind to the reality of the people that knew how to pull my strings. 

These examples are not unique. It’s likely you have some of them or work for someone who has them.  The best way to counteract them is to find someone outside your silo that knows you, knows your group and that you trust. Ask them directly, “Who's in my blind spot?” and then open your eyes.