Overcoming organisational blind spots

  1. People bring the best versions of themselves when they interact with their bosses and save their lesser moments for their peers, spouses, or therapists. Catmull says, “Unfortunately most leaders aren’t aware of it when it’s happening. They either forget or don’t even realise that when they get promoted to a leadership position. No one will ever actually say, ‘Now that you are a manager, I can no longer be as open and brutally honest with you.’ Instead, many new leaders assume, wrongly, that their access to information is unchanged.” When information is lacking, you must train yourself to believe that blind spots are present and growing.
  2. Some people choose to tell the boss only what they want to hear instead of what needs to be said. When this happens, it’s impossible for the leader to get a clear picture of reality. What makes it even harder is that by telling the leader what they want to hear, they end up endearing themselves to that leader. Who doesn’t like that? Catmull says, “When viewed from a single vantage point, a full picture of the dynamics of any group is elusive. While we are all aware of these kinds of behaviours because we see them in others, most of us do not realise that we distort our own view of the world, largely because we think we see more than we actually do.”
  3. The people doing the day-to-day work in the trenches deal with complex processes that are accompanied with their own challenges and specific nuances. The leader is typically capable of understanding those issues if they are brought to him and explained. But the people who are directly involved have the clearest understanding of the issues because they are in the middle of the action. If a disaster is looming, they will know about it before the leader does. The biggest problem is that employees typically don’t bring those problems up to the leadership right away. Even employees with the best track records can be too tentative to speak up when they sense trouble. They could feel it’s too early to involve upper leadership, or they might assume that management is already aware. Catmull makes an outstanding point, “Complex environments are, by definition, too complicated for any one person to grasp fully. Yet many managers, afraid of appearing to not be in control, believe that they have to know everything — or at least act like they do.”
  1. Embrace differing view-points — as Catmull notes: “If we start with the attitude that different viewpoints are additive rather than competitive, we become more effective because our ideas or decisions are honed and tempered by that discourse.”
  2. Refuse to be blinded by success — success persuades us to believe that we are doing everything right. Refuse to believe your own press and build deeper relationships across the organisation. When you do, it will be easier to dig deeper into the views of your employees because you will have established trust with those that live in them.
  3. Create feedback mechanisms — organisations that do well with this create regular rhythms where employees, who are known for telling the truth vs. saying what’s convenient, sit down with upper management to give important feedback. Title is not a ticket to get into the boardroom. Instead, a consistent history of sound, candid feedback along with innovative solution design establishes the value the leadership needs to avoid imminent disaster.



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Jonathan Mills

Jonathan Mills

Jonathan has spent over 30 years focusing his efforts on developing people throughout the world. He believes that people have the most impact when stretched.