Friday, March 27, 2009

Understanding the blind spots – Leader’s weaknesses and mentoring others


As a long time motorcyclist, I know the importance of constant situational awareness. This includes my mental state, the mechanical performance of the cycle, security of cargo and attentiveness of my favorite passenger. This does not even account for the countless traffic and road conditions around me.

We typically consider “blind spots” to be those areas to our sides and back that we cannot see very well during driving using mirrors. The rider must do something extra ordinary to maintain safety. I have found that blind spots exist in our leadership and job performance skills in the same way. In working with many people over the years I’ve found that providing them with a tool to help them identify their work “blind spots” has been quite helpful.

The “Important-Urgent” grid above has helped many of my mentees over the years understand how to deal with priorities, eliminate fire drills, balance the time-quality trade-off and remove unneeded tasks. Here are my typical findings:

• Urgent/Important – You get fired if these don’t get done!
• Urgent/Not Important – These get too much effort for the value and often could have been anticipated.
• Not Urgent/Important – The most common blind spot. Unfortunately too many leaders put performance reviews, communication and mentoring in this group.
• Not Urgent/Not Important – To who? Make sure you and your boss agree on the category, limit the task, extend the due date or get these officially canceled.

Do you use this or a similar model for finding your blind spots or when helping others?

30 comments:

Alex Kersha said...

"John, this is a great discussion topic, thanks for posting! To date our efforts have been mostly hind-sight. When we identify that something has gone wrong or fallen through the cracks, we call it out, make everyone aware and take steps to avoid repeating the same stupidity. Unfortunately this method requires making the mistake at least once but in our extremely fast-paced environment, being 100% proactive is very difficult. I'm not sure that the high-level categories provided are enough to capture everything though. In many cases, I find that the things we identify having gone awry often were never recognized in the first place. I'd be interested to hear what people use to weed out the unexpected in their industries. Cheers, Alex Kersha

Leanne Hoagland-Smith said...

"John - Great suggestions. May I add the following - know yourself (Socrates), choose yourself (Kierkegaard) and Choose Yourself (Mirandolla). This may require several outside proven assessments such as 360, DISC, Values or Attributes Index. Then set goals around those areas necessary to realize the results that you are seeking in your current leadership role."

Rohit Gupta said...

"Thats a very interesting piece of experience that you have shared here . I personally follow something which is similar in nature ,probably at micro level and it has helped me in both reducing the stress and have a work life balance . I use the old fashioned way of keeping a diary to chart out days schedule and the entries are classified as: - I Must Do :These are tasks that need to be concluded to deliver the results expected .These are the bread n butter . - I Have to do : These are tasks which are directly/indirectly linked to my role and my boss has set expectation on these. - I wish to do: These are tasks which make my day interesting and are specific learning activities - I may do : These are tasks that can be deferred \avoided and donot impact my project - I should do : These are entries that help me narrow down the blind spot areas. I have been following this religiously and believe it help simplies the complexities and challenges that surface from time to time."

Clare Novak said...

"John, New members of the organization and consultants can be extremely valuable when tasked with just looking around, talking with people and then telling what they see. New folks rarely have the same blind spots as longer term staff. New or external people are the like the archetype of the youngest, foolish son who simply sees things in a different way and therefore has creative solutions. Regards, Clare"

John Bishop said...

"John, I learned that an "Urgent thing is an Important one that was not managed in a timely manner or got forgotten!" its a very good prioritization model and my addition simply be to add to the Urgent/Important what additional step will be taken to avoid a similar Urgency in the future."

Michael Potts said...

"John, I learned that an "Urgent thing is an Important one that was not managed in a timely manner or got forgotten!" its a very good prioritization model and my addition simply be to add to the Urgent/Important what additional step will be taken to avoid a similar Urgency in the future."

Gregg Bicknell, MBA said...

"Good question and good information"

Raj Rengarajan said...

"Stephen Covey elucidates this aspect of quadrant notion in his Seven Habits book. The Not urgent / Not important tasks often cause fissures in one's organizational capability and a solution to this issue is delegation."

Amlan Duttchoudhury said...

"Great Topic - I would like to add to what you underscored here the - 'Important-Urgent Grid" – this is my all time favorite topic as well, and I go though it with my employees in every opportune moment. There is this enormous thrust in businesses today to be driven by schedule (Urgent) and often at a cost of what is Important (the strategic “value” we promised to deliver to our customers). Worse, typically most employees aren’t aware of who their clients are – further, there exist gross misconceptions regarding role of a partner (internal recipient of our deliverable) and the customer (often stakeholders - shareholders, consumers, the flying community etc) to whom we have made our commitments and ultimate they determine if the delivered value is worthy to justify our existence -- Thats a topic for a diffent day! So the Urgent-Important task is not so much as self preservation (getting fired) at a personal level but importantly at an organizational level – achieved only by delivering the promised strategic value to our customers. But when at a conflict I profess that Importance always trumps Urgency."

Charles Bellavia said...

"The four quadrant grid of Urgent/Important is very similar to what teh time management expert, Charles Hobbs, lectured on in 'Time and Your Life" in the late 70s and early 80s. Hobbs called it urgent and vital. His concept stated that people concentrate on the urgent not teh vital. Vital coming from the Latin vita meaning life. One example he used is making a dentist appointment. It is not urgent but it is vital. It will not receive teh attention it deserves when put behind the urgent. The Hobbs system leverages your business and personal life. Using his system on a weekend increases productivity significantly. John, when you mentor time management you are giving people a lifetime of success. Great way to do it."

Geri Michelic said...

"Thanks for the topic. I agree with Michael. While the Urgency model works, I usually found myself trapped in it when I wanted to avoid looking at the bigger picture and getting ahead of the priorities. Or, I was stuck in the cycle because I needed to have a tough conversation with a leader who was creating the chaos!"

Richard Brady said...

"The best approach to an awareness of blind spots and leadership short-comings I think is by understanding the derailing flaws that leaders possess. These are risks of moving away from, against or towards situations, decisions, people etc. Dr Robert Hogan developed the most powerful measure of these tendencies through the Hogan Development Survey: http://www.mentis-consulting.com/hogan-development-survey.asp

Linda Maul said...

"Your posting intrigued me John because I am also a Stephen Covey fan but have never used that model intentionally to highlight the 'blind spots'. I will be playing with that in the weeks to come however. We use our Strategic Plan as our rear-view mirror. Are we where we thought we might be as an organization? If not, why not? If so, did it get us the mileage we thought it might? etc... I see the two working very nicely together. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts. Cheers, Linda Maul www.creatingpeoplepower.ca"

David Womack said...

"A methodical way to see blindspots! I think you are on to something. I have identified a few of my own behaviors that I use as warning flags -- Although these are not exactly an early warning system for blindspots, these are similar: When I want to avoid someone, there is something wrong in the relationship and I need to set it right. When several people understand something in a meeting that I just don't get, I need to learn something. When I react to an email by immediatley typing fast and furious, I need to delete my response without sending it. When I don't have time for my staff, I need to reset my priorities and get control of my calendar. When my desk is a mess, I've lost control and need to get it back. When I don't want to get out of bed in the morning, its time for a vacation."

Krishna Kumar Ramamoorthy said...

"Check out Johari Window if you havent already. I believe thats where the term originated as far as management literature goes. Typically these aspects of you that are known ( can be perceived by )to others, unknown to self. Requires openness to feedback from trusted advisors to eradicate."

Klint C. Kendrick, MBA SPHR said...

John, this prioritization matrix is a fantastic tool for managing what to do, but I'm not sure it really addresses any bind spots.

The Johari window http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johari_window, which Krishna referenced, describes a blind spot as something that others know, but you don't.

Things like the DISC and 360 assessment tht Leanne talked about are a really great way to uncover blind spots. For those without access to those tools, I would say that mentors and trusted friends are a really great way to uncover these blind spots.

This does, of course, take a lot of trust, and the willingness to accept feedback! I know I sometimes struggle when I hear about things I can't see about myself. The best thing I can do is take a few deep breaths and sit on the feedback. Then, I give it a few days to sink in and if it's good feedback I incorporate it.

I think it would be awesome to hear about ways that others GIVE feedback about the blindspots of their mentees or trusted friends. I had a feedback giving situation backfire this weekend. Fortunately, I gave it to a friend/colleague that trusts me and we were able to talk through the situation. I asked him how I could give that feedback differently, and the bottom line is I couldn't. We left with an understanding that he's not open to feedback on the topic we discussed. I'll honor that boundary, but it's a bit sad that we now have an area of our working relationship that we can't discuss.

Njideka N. Olatunde said...

"This information is very useful. Identifying blind spots is a valuable resource in handling tasks and getting the job done. Thanks for sharing. Njideka "Queen of StressFree Living" Olatunde [http://www.yourfinancialwellnesscoach.com

Wallace Jones, MLD said...

"Hi John, I have found throughout my leadership studies that often the best tools for locating potential blind spots in my mentees is to begin with self assessment evaluations such as 360 feedback or the MLQ. These are obviously not fool proof by any stretch, but I have found that they help you determine the mentees leadership style while also identifying weaknesses. I am also a student of the full range leadership development model and I have found that having your mentees strive for transformational behaviors helps alleviate the need fire drills as well. In short, teach the mentee how to identify their "self-leadership" style then managing those blind spots is made slightly easier."

Dr. Paul Hoffman, DSL said...

"The JoHari Window, a tool developed in 1955, is still a good tool today. It has four panes: 1, Arena or open area. What you know about you and what others know about you. 2. Blind Spot. What others know about you that you don't know. 3. Hidden Agenda. This is what others don't know and you are unwilling to share. 4. Unknown: What you don't know and what others don't know. The ideal is having the arena pane wide open thus minimizing the Blind Spot and the Hidden Agenda. This ideal involves openness, honesty, trust and expressed concern for others over self (Servant Leadership of Super Leadership if you like theories). Do others feel secure with you that they can tell you what you need to know from your blind spot? Do you feel secure with others to share your agenda? Sensing this security aids you, in your leadership, to accept ideas and recommendations from others in a way that allow you all to collectively manage the unknown. It is more than Blind Spot. Yet, asking the question, starting this discussion, opens you to complex dialogue that goes beyond simple communication."

Renée Gendron said...

"Allo John, et al, I think the Urgency model is a good template. The "Not Urgent/Not Important" is open to interpretation, and subject to position within the company. The CEO (strategy) might not care too much about a minor account, whereas the customer service rep (tactics) trying to fill the order/get the goods delivered might believe that that order is of the highest priority. I think there are two major categories of blind spots: 1) situations in which current procedures/IT infrastructure can not take into account, and there is a lot of manual over riding. IT system was built in the 1970s, hasn't been upgraded since 1990, can not fully meet current needs/demands/interface requirements. 2) Unforeseen consequences: launch a new product, first in market --- the products does what it was supposed to do --- and then also has negative/positive effects in other areas - other sectors/environment/wild life/users use it for another purpose, ect. Regards, Renée"

Carl Davis said...

"John, It is amazing how "fire-fighting" can quickly overwhelm strategic planning. For any department that deals with customers, inside or outside the organization, I have a recommendation. I was introduced to "Systems Thinking" and "causal loop diagrams" last year, while working in the former FOT&V division. These processes are a great way to help all involved with a situation get a visual representation of the reaction one decision in a group can cause in the others involved. The propensity to get into a "perpetual fire-fighting loop" jumps right out, as do the opprtunities to escape it. Boeing has facilitators who can help you get your "situation" mapped out. From there, the places in the system that you can affect change in usually become apparent. It works as a good compliment to offices who have done all they can with LEAN. "The Fifth Discipline", by Peter Senge, lays out the plan. It is time consuming in the beginning, no doubt. I do believe it is worthwhile. As I get settled into my new position, I intend to bring these proceses in to help get all the parties involved on the "same sheet of music". Carl"

Mary said...

Hi,
Yes, this grid is very important! In fact, a manager friend recently sent a note to several of us who've been doing leadership training together for years, about an employee she has who wants to do "better" but has real time management issues. I put this Urgent/Important grid into a single powerpoint slide & sent it to her. This simple grid is the kind of thing he can use daily, with only a little discipline, to help him use his time most effectively.
Thanks for asking!
Mary

Gordon Taras said...

"Hi, Having the right mentor is another solution. Someone you can bounce situations off of to get the another person's view (Robert's point, different solution). A mentor can help you look into the blind spot, but more importantly, can help you identify and fix your blind spots. Alternatively, I built a model that you can use to identify the sources of possible blind spots. Bounce your skills against this fractal: [http://gordontaras.blogspot.com/2009/01/leadership-and-management-are-just-tip.html] to find your blind spots. This is the most detailed of three fractals. You can follow the links to the simpler fractals."

Gordon said...

"Hi, {posting anew. I misread the question} I built a series of fractal models to help leaders identify their weaknesses and blind spots. The links are below. One use of fractals is to identify holes. The technique is to sub-divide an item into components, then make a pattern from the components. The pattern that emerges will have holes. In this situation: the item is you, the components are your skills, the pattern is your outlook towards life, and the holes are your blind spots. However, know thyself [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Know_thyself] should only be considered the first pass. You need to compare yourself to others, or in Brian's terms, "take the other person's view." In fractal terms, you create a new pattern out of two and discover where components from one cover the holes of another. In this situation, this is where Mentoring comes in. The ideal Mentor would be sufficiently different from you so that you can learn from your Mentor to adjust your outlook towards life (adjust your pattern) and provide vision into your blind spots (learn new skills). This can only happen if your Mentor is sufficiently different in their outlook towards life and skills for you to make a meaningful change. My models provide you with a default pattern and list of skills. You use the model by marking your skills within the pattern. Your holes are the unmarked items or areas. The link to my most detailed model is here: [http://gordontaras.blogspot.com/2009/01/leadership-and-management-are-just-tip.html]. You can follow the links to the simpler models. Thanks for the question! Gordon"

D. Kevin Berchelmann said...

"I believe it oversimplifies the issue to draw a clear connection between low urgency and blind spot. To my thinking, most "blind spots," if you will, are not a function of urgency at all, but of lack of feedback. My keyboarding skills prohibit a full discussion, but in short, The Johari Window does a good job of identifying where potential blind spots are, and the ensuing conversations can help shore up those areas of giving and receiving feedback that can eliminate (or at least reduce) those areas that are "known to others, but unknown to me," aka "blind spots." But that's just me... KB"

Yen La, PMP said...

"Hi John, Regarding to Not Urgent/Important, how do you make sure you can incorporate it in daily business because it seemed like we are operating in Urgent mode all the time. Also, What are the top three things that a person must master if they want to move up? Thanks, Yen"

Trina Willard said...

"I find that Important/Urgent matrix is a great framework to get conversations started and quite frequently elicits a few lightbulbs, particularly when we discuss what is urgent for "you" versus urgent for "others". It is a favorite tool of mine and seems to be useful with almost every client I serve, in some way."

Gordon Taras said...

Readers - please see the new blog post created by Gordon Taras on this topic.

John

John Bryan said...

I too found the matrix interesting. I found myself wondering how many of us take the time to prioritze at all or if, like internal or external clients, we tend to prioritize based on routines or on what is presently in our viewfinder. Perhaps if we all took the time to prioritize and plan, there would be fewer leaders creating unintentional chaos as alluded to by Geri above.

Mónica Díaz de Peralta said...

My husband is also a morotcycle enthusiast. I remember in one of his riding tapes, there was a metaphor of having one dollar and needing to put coins in each attention spot to decide where you were going to put 10 cents or 50 cents worth of your attention. Sometimes I fear these days, most execs don't even have a dollars worth left because of all the expectations they need to fulfull in the organization. Another way of prioritizing I have used is about how things pertain to your (and the company's) aspirations. That is, of these things that need to be done, what is truly transcendent (it will still matter in the future whether I did it today or not), wisdom-building (they will have an impact in how I understand things), happy (they bring lasting satisfaction to me, my colleagues, the workplace, our company). It is a great reflection and I suspect will correlate very much with your matrix.

Add to Technorati Favorites