3 Lethal Leadership Blind Spots

By Kristin Schepici on March 20, 2013

According to Linkage Thought Leader Series presenter Dave Logan, you’ve got to watch out for “lethal leadership blindness.”

“The first leadership blindness,” he writes on his blog, “is brought about by believing that you have ‘the best’ methodology available. Daryl Conner wrote an excellent blog about what he called ‘methodological bigots’—people who have one approach that they ‘know’ is superior. The problem here is that anything that your unique process doesn’t uncover goes unseen.

“I’ve seen this problem arise with people who are ardent followers of any methodology, including Tribal Leadership and The Three Laws of Performance. With Tribal, people often say: ‘Now I see the problem. Our culture is…‘my life sucks.’ That’s a great observation, but taken alone, it’s probably insufficient. What about the strategy of the company? Do people want what you’re selling? Are your systems capable of producing it? Kodak had a lousy culture before their bankruptcy, but a cultural intervention, if implemented by itself, would not have made them vital. They also needed to focus on their strategic problem—people weren’t buying old technology.

“Often, readers of The Three Laws of Performance like the language of ‘what’s working?’ and ‘new futures’ and ‘possibility.’ Like any system, this one comes with enormous insights. People are able to see beyond superficial problems to underlying factors. And it, too, is blinding to other approaches. One of the factors is that the ‘what’s working?’ and ‘what’s not working?’ questions don’t allow people to see their anger or outrage about a problem in the world. Imagine how successful Martin Luther King, Jr. would have been if he had not drawn on the power of outrage. Users of the ‘what’s working?’ language set often don’t see the dark side.

“The second leadership blindness comes with people becoming highly specialized. I work a lot with physicians and engineers. Both groups are remarkable in their education and diligence. And often, they have a hard time in leadership because they can only see the world in terms of systems, protocols, procedures, processes, and steps. Leadership, by definition, has no steps. There’s a moment when technically sophisticated people step away from their expertise and feel naked. That’s the most important moment of their development as leaders, because for the first time, they’re seeing a business problem without the blindness that comes along with their technical expertise. They have to take out the contact lenses of specialization to see things that they can’t see otherwise.

“The third leadership blindness comes from people who are die-hard generalists. This blindness is the opposite of the second one, and comes from people who are either self-educated, or liberal arts majors who never mastered a specific field like engineering or technology. The problem here is that they haven’t developed the rigor of learning a field’s discipline. The corresponding blindness is following the rigors of a field. I often dishearten such individuals when I say, ‘pick a specific field, and spend a year learning it, without improvising or explaining it in terms of what you already know.’

“The better advice is ‘become great at something.’ Steve Sample, the President Emeritus of USC, is an extreme example of this approach. As an engineer, and then as an engineering professor, he secured patents on digital appliance controls that have been built into 300 million units. Later, he assumed leadership in higher education and wrote a great book called The Contrarian’s Guide to Leadership.

“As good as it gets is multiple pairs of contact lenses, and a regular habit of putting each in, noting what you can see with them, and then taking them out. So, if you loved my “How to Fix Your Company” blog post, you may not like the follow-up advice: As you work on fixing your company, find a completely different way of viewing the situation, and follow up on the insights you derive from this different perspective. And to those readers who hated it, it’s probably exactly what you need.”

What’s your leadership blind spot?

More information
Linkage’s Thought Leader Series brings 90-minute video broadcasts with some of the most world-renowned leaders right to your organization. Click here to learn more about Dave Logan’s broadcast.

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