Helping Leaders See The Light

See the lightBlind spots; we all have them.

Sometimes they linger in the background and our ignorance of them is bliss.

However, sometimes our blind spots create a personal trap that negatively effects our performance, our relationships, and our success.

This is a scenario I’ve witnessed several times with leaders we’ve coached as part of our Executive Coaching program here at CMOE.

It isn’t always easy to help others become aware of and identify these blind spots.

First, a coach needs to help the leader accept that the blind spot exists; then the leader must be open to learning and understanding the impact it has on his or her life.

Finally, they have to be open and willing to change, and that can be a high hurdle to jump.

We’ve found that while a personal coach can help guide someone through this process, it is often necessary to utilize additional outside tools and resources when the leader needs an extra push. If you are looking for a little help in this area, we’ve found the book Leadership and Self-Deception by the Arbinger Institute (2010) can be extremely helpful.

Leadership and Self-Deception is the story of a man who is having some difficulty in his relationships, both on the job and within his family. As the story unfolds, you learn about how behaviors can place you either “in the box,” where you are unable to see the blind spots, or “out of the box” which allows you to recognize and move past those things that are holding you back.

Let me share a couple of experiences that we’ve had with clients who have read the book. The names have been changed to maintain their privacy.

Several months ago we were asked to coach a leader named Peter who was driven to be, and took a lot of pride in being, a subject-matter expert. Peter was promoted to a high-level leadership role that required him to expand his focus from his technical areas of expertise to a broader level of influence spanning the entire business.

His blind spot was that he didn’t recognize the importance of stepping out of his comfort zone. He just wasn’t aware of how his resistance was effecting his performance and ability to move the work forward. Peter’s leadership team expressed concern over the gaps in his ability to conceptualize at a higher level and to think like a director.

As a subject-matter expert, Peter was accustomed to being direct and inflexible in order to maintain the high technical standards and quality that were expected. While this style may have been necessary and effective in his previous role, as a Director in his organization, this behavior was hindering Peter’s ability to be successful.

His performance was so negative; he was finally placed on a Performance Improvement Plan (PIP).
When Peter’s coaching program began, he was assigned to read Leadership and Self-Deception. He quickly realized that his approach in this new role was putting him “in the box,” as described in the book.

Peter quickly recognized his struggle to remove himself from daily operational activities and his inability to trust his team. He also realized how important it was for him to engage with others within his sphere of influence and beyond the technical and tactical aspects of his position.

As Peter and his coach worked through how to make those changes and stay “out of the box,” Peter’s leaders recognized a change in him and ultimately Peter was able to come off the PIP.

Another coachee, Bill, had a long history of being abrupt, rude, and demanding. His behavior alienated his team and his peers and was very disrespectful.

One of our coaches had worked with Bill for several months to no avail. He was completely disengaged in every coaching session because he was convinced that his team was the problem. All coaching efforts were unsuccessful. Bill had a HUGE blind spot.

He was completely unaware of the impact he was having on the people around him. In addition, he felt his actions were justified because they were always the direct result of the actions of someone else. It finally came to a head when he was given six weeks to turn things around or risk being terminated.

As a final effort, Bill’s coach gave him a copy of Leadership and Self-Deception. Even getting Bill to read the book was an exercise in persuasion. His coach had to coax him to read just the first 25−50 pages. After the first week, he had only read 20 pages.

But, to the surprise of his coach, the next week, Bill had finished the book and said he really identified with the story and wished he had read it sooner. Bill’s subsequent change was dramatic. Bill met with his team and apologized for his behavior.

He asked for their support in helping him to recognize when he acts in an offensive way and assured them of his desire to change. The effect Leadership and Self-Deception had on Bill was astounding. While he still struggles to communicate appropriately and is working with his coach on making those changes, Bill’s position with the company was preserved.

Your situation may not be as critical and your position may not be in jeopardy. However, we all indulge in behaviors that may put us “in the box” and keep us from being better.

If you feel stuck and want to learn how you can recognize your blind spots and step “out of the box” to better your relationships and increase your performance, we highly recommend that you pick up a copy of Leadership and Self-Deception today.

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About the Author

Polly Scott

Polly is an Assistant Vice President for CMOE and specializes in organizational management and executive coaching. Polly also has years of experience in sales and marketing, strategic leadership, leadership principles and execution. She is dedicated to listening and understanding the goals of clients.