Leadership Blind Spots: Find Them and Manage Better

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Creativity, Inc." by Ed Catmull. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What are leadership blind spots? How do these prevent you from being the best manager for your organization?

Leadership blind spots are your problem areas that you’re unaware of. Because you don’t know they exist, they’re hard to discover and improve on.

Read more about leadership blind spots and how to fix them.

Finding Your Leadership Blind Spots

Everyone has leadership blind spots, or problematic areas they’re unaware of. Discovering these issues isn’t easy because these trouble areas exist outside of your current perspective. For example, if you’re in upper management at a manufacturing facility, you may not know about issues on the production line if you’re not seeing them for yourself.

These blind spots can lead to unexpected meltdowns or poor decision-making. To avoid potential disaster, raise your awareness and constantly search for the “hidden” problems in your organization.

When you’re in a position of power, people tend to tell you what you want to hear. This deferential treatment can skew your perspective in dangerous ways. For example, a high-ranking executive may believe that employee morale is high because, whenever she sees her employees, they seem happy and hard at work. However, she’s unaware that this high morale is an illusion. Her employees are actually unhappy with their work environment, but they don’t want to upset the “boss.” Employee frustration may continue to fester until, suddenly, people begin quitting “unexpectedly.”

There are three factors that lead to leadership blind spots:

  • Employees are on their best behavior around people in power. You can’t always rely on your managers or employees to be honest with you about brewing issues. Even when you ask for candidness, team members may withhold information at the risk of looking incompetent. 
  • Hierarchy can create a false sense of importance. While hierarchy in a company can be beneficial, it can also lead to people attributing value to job titles. For example, a middle manager may treat an executive with the utmost respect because that person is “important” while they treat their employees terribly because those people aren’t “important.” This can lead to false information being passed up the chain of command while mistreatment goes unreported. As a leader, this makes it challenging to know if an employee is actually doing good work, or if they’re just saying what you want to hear.
  • Complex and large organizations have a lot of moving parts. Different departments deal with a series of daily routines and responsibilities. Because of this, every team member has a different perspective based on their limited view of the company. Even executive members who are supposed to oversee multiple departments don’t have a clear perspective on every moving piece of an organization. Therefore, when decisions are made without first consulting others, they’re made with an incomplete picture of the status of the company. 

Now that you know what leads to leadership blind spots, consider the following tips:

  • Don’t always believe the hype. While it may feel nice to have people defer to you, ensure that the information you’re receiving is as accurate as possible. Don’t allow yourself to get complacent because it boosts your ego.
  • Encourage a vocal and candid workforce. When people feel comfortable speaking up, it’s more likely you’re going to hear the truth about brewing issues.
  • View differing opinions as complementary, not competitive. The best way to solve problems within a complex organization is to take a wide range of views into consideration. People within departments will have a stronger sense of the issues and problems facing that department than you do, and valuing their perspective will help you avoid overlooking crucial issues you may be unaware of.
  • Accept that you’ll never know everything. It’s nearly impossible to know every facet of your company. Once you accept that you’ll never know everything, it’s easier to put your ego aside and listen to the perspectives of others.

Hindsight Isn’t 20/20

When someone claims “hindsight is 20/20,” they’re implying that you can understand a decision after the fact because you’ve experienced the results and consequences of that decision. However, it’s a skewed concept. In reality, your personal viewpoint distorts your version of reality and ignores other factors that may have impacted the result. So, you may still have leadership blind spots even with the benefit of hindsight.

For example, if a young child burns their hand on a pot while it’s on the stove, they likely won’t touch it again. However, they won’t necessarily know the difference between the pot being on the stovetop and the pot being in the cabinet. Therefore, they may develop an aversion to grabbing pots because, in their experience, touching a pot means burning their hand. Even with hindsight, their view is distorted.

This isn’t to say that you shouldn’t learn from the past. Hindsight can be a powerful teacher, but it shouldn’t control your actions. For example, if a softball player pitches a great game after using a new warmup, she may continue to practice this warmup. However, she recognizes that it isn’t the sole key to her success. She knows there are other factors at play that impact the quality of her gameplay and continues to search for ways to improve her mechanics.

Leadership Blind Spots: Find Them and Manage Better

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