FLASHBACK ARTICLE FROM OCTOBER 2007
I have almost died on several occasions. I’d like to blame these near-death experiences on others, but I suppose they might have something to do with me. Let me explain…
Anyone who has driven for a length of time in Atlanta can testify to the horrors of its traffic situation. I’m sure other cities can make the claim of worst traffic in America, but I can’t imagine anyplace worse than Atlanta. To complicate the problem, I wouldn’t describe myself as a particularly patient person. In fact, my wife might describe me as downright impatient—and she would probably be right.
When in traffic, I’ve always subscribed to the bob-and-weave philosophy. If rampant lane changing can save me a car length or two, then I’ll switch lanes like Liz Taylor switches husbands.
Unfortunately, there have been a few instances when I’ve not been diligent in checking my blind spot when shifting lanes. And, let me tell you, nothing jolts a person like the angry honking of a car horn only a few inches to his left or right! Thankfully, I’ve been able to survive without crashing or receiving anything worse than a friendly wave of the middle finger from a fellow driver. Since my blind spot has nearly caused my demise several times, I now pay extra attention to it. I double and triple confirm no cars are there before I merge into another lane.
Blind spots can wreck a leader’s journey. In this edition of LW, I would like illustrate one of the most common blind spots I have observed in leaders. Next edition, I’ll explore a second customary blind spot faced by leaders, and in each lesson, I’ll give you advice for avoiding the dangers of the blind spot.
THE BLIND SPOT
The Blind Spot – An area in the lives of people in which they continually do not see themselves or their situation realistically. This unawareness often causes great damage to the people and those around them.
WHY WE ARE BLIND – A SINGULAR PERSPECTIVE
Most every leader has a blind spot, in fact, all probably do. We are trapped in our own perspectives, unable to see the world completely from another person’s point of view. We are absorbed in our world, caught in our present circumstances, consumed by selfish thoughts, and confined by our narrow experiences.
To illustrate, consider King George III of England’s journal entry on July 4, 1776: “Nothing happened today.” Of course, unbeknownst to King George, the American Declaration of Independence had been issued that day, and it would change the course of history.
One reason for our singular perspective can be attributed to our self-perception, or attitude toward self. As I wrote in the Lens Principle: who we are determines how we see others. A naïve optimist may be blind to the less-than-ideal intentions of those around them. Oppositely, an eternal pessimist may be blind to the kindness of a co-worker, instead suspecting ulterior motives.
A second cause of singular perspective comes from our tendency to judge ourselves based on intentions, while judging others by their actions. Such a bias allows us to cut ourselves slack and to justify our actions, because, after all, we meant well. However, since we aren’t able to see the motives of others, we evaluate them solely by their actions. We attribute shortcomings in their behavior to shortfalls in character without regard for their present circumstances, mood, or emotional frame of mind.
We are fully aware of our history, but ignorant of the background of others. For this reason, context is the third and final cause of a blinding singular perspective. Decisions we take make perfect sense to us given our beliefs and experiences, but they may surprise others who are not as familiar with us. On the other hand, since we don’t know the particulars of another person’s childhood, past relationships, or prior involvements, we often have trouble conceiving why the person acts the way he or she does.
CHECKING YOUR BLIND SPOT – OPENING UP TO THE PERSPECTIVES OF OTHERS
As trite as it may sound, putting yourself in another person’s shoes does open you to their perspective. To broaden your limited perspective, try to envision their opinions and feelings. Attempt to be aware of their motives and the values they hold dear.
Leaders avoid the blind spot of singular perspective when they seek to understand before seeking to be understood. As I wrote in Winning with People, “The entire world, with one small exception, is composed of others.” Followers are focused inwardly, and they wonder, “How will this affect me?” Conversely, leaders are focused outwardly, and they ask, “How will this affect others?”
Finally, leaders may avoid the blind spot of singular perspective by examining themselves before casting blame on others. As Jesus of Nazareth taught, “Don’t pick on people, jump on their failures, or criticize their faults— unless, of course, you want the same treatment. That critical spirit has a way of boomeranging. It’s easy to see a smudge on your neighbor’s face and be oblivious to the ugly sneer on your own,” (Matthew 7:1-3, The Message).
Dr. John C. Maxwell has authored over 30 books, including such New York Times best-sellers as “Failing Forward” and “The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership.”
FLASHBACK ARTICLE FROM OCTOBER 2007