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Out of Sight, Out of Mind: Your Unrecognized Leadership Weaknesses

Is there such a thing as a perfect leader? Of course not. Even the most experienced leaders have areas of unrecognized leadership weaknesses or biases that can negatively impact their teams and outcomes. Understanding these areas and addressing them is essential for effective leadership, so it's important to take action regularly to gather feedback and learn what you need to work on. That includes:

  • Seeking feedback from peers, mentors, and direct reports using tools like 360-degree feedback to provide valuable insights.

  • Engaging in regular self-reflection based on what you hear and pushing through any defensiveness or feelings of discomfort to help you flex your growth mentality.

  • Participating in ongoing training and development programs focused on leadership skills, emotional intelligence, and diversity and inclusion.

  • Fostering an organizational culture where accountability is valued by holding yourself accountable for your actions and decisions. Good leaders give all the credit for things going well to their teams, which in turn reflects well on you, and take all the responsibility when things don't go well, while taking action to learn and adjust to achieve better outcomes in the future.

  • Building and fostering diverse teams to provide a broader range of perspectives.

A line of colored pencils with the words, "Perhaps you're inadvertently stifling innovation and creativity because of an over-reliance on the past or conventional wisdom. That could look like you saying "we've always done it this way" when people ask questions or even shutting down new ideas."

Now that you know how to shine a light in those dark corners, let's explore some of the more common areas where leaders' unrecognized weaknesses take a negative toll on their teams and possible mitigations.

1. Perhaps you're inadvertently stifling innovation and creativity because of an over-reliance on the past or conventional wisdom. That could look like you saying "we've always done it this way" when people ask questions or even shutting down new ideas. To address this, you can encourage a culture of continuous learning and openness by actively seeking a variety of diverse perspectives and being willing to experiment with new approaches. Get curious about process mapping, explore the experience of everyone involved, and take a big-picture approach by looking at the broader system design.

2. Perhaps you tend towards confirmation bias and favor information that supports your preconceptions while ignoring data that contradicts them. This can lead to poor decision-making and suboptimal outcomes. To address this, you can implement structured decision-making processes that require considering multiple viewpoints and data sources. Two useful models include consent-based decision making, where a decision can be made as long as those affected by the decision don't raise a substantial objection or advice-based decision making where any person can make any decision after seeking advice from those folks meaningfully affected by the decision as well as people with expertise in the decision. In both types of decision making, not everyone needs to love the decision, but their voices need to be heard and they need to be able to live with the decision.

3. Perhaps you fail to understand or acknowledge your employees' feelings and perspectives. This can create a disconnect, leading to low morale and disengagement, possibly even resulting in turnover and decreased productivity. To address this, you can invest in emotional intelligence training and coaching. You can make an effort to understand better by holding regular one-on-one meetings, insisting that your directs choose the agenda topics, and making space for them to speak most of the time while you actively listen and occasionally ask curious questions. This can foster open communication and provide a platform for employees to voice their concerns.

4. Perhaps your messages aren't always clear and you don't always recognize when your teams are confused or misinformed. This can lead to misunderstandings, errors, and a lack of alignment on goals and strategies. To address this, you can promote a culture of feedback and two-way communication. Do this by regularly seeking feedback on your communication style and clarity, then taking swift action to address what you learn from that feedback. Be explicit about what you are doing, "I heard my messaging isn't always clear, so I'm trying to adjust my approach. [insert messaging here] Could you tell me what you think the key points, actions, or takeaways are based on what I just explained? What could I include more or less of in my messaging to make things more clear?"

5. Perhaps you favor certain employees or groups, leading to inequities in opportunities, recognition, and development. This can create a toxic work environment and hinder a feeling of belonging and inclusion in folks. To address this, you can establish clear, objective criteria, reflect on your biases and take active steps to mitigate them.

Even the best leaders can have areas to work on that have significant repercussions on their teams and outcomes. By letting go of your ego, acknowledging you're still a work in progress, and recognizing and addressing these areas, you can foster a more inclusive, innovative, and productive work environment.

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