Recently I was speaking with one of my executive coaching clients, ‘Joshua,’ and we were discussing his approach to a particular challenge with his executive team. Through our conversation, he noticed that he always took basically the same approach to holding them accountable. He recounted how he’d make a task known, get feedback, then divide up the tasks and expect everyone to bring their results to the next meeting. But it wasn’t working all the time. They had a big year-end goal to meet, and he was concerned that they were not going to make it; his current approach wasn’t enough. Then he made an observation I told him I’d steal immediately for this blog post: he said, “it’s like I’m the quarterback and I only have one receiver I can rely on to make the goal.” Brilliant! What a great analogy! He realized that he only had one tactic (receiver) that he was comfortable using, and he was continually relying on that one play to get him all the way down the field and into the end zone.
No professional football team would ever rely on that strategy and expect to win all the time!
But that is consistently what we do as leaders. We have a way that works, and we rely on it a little too much. We become more rigid in our thinking and execution than would ultimately serve the whole team. As leaders, we need to be more flexible and able to call a variety of plays to be sure we can out-maneuver the competition or circumstances that come our way.
The thing is, most of us don’t even realize that we have a limited number of plays available to us – we think we have all the plays we need. But instead, we have blind spots. Just like Joshua, we don’t even see that we’re relying on that one player all the time. We just think that is the only option available to us. Until someone points out the blind spot… then we see that we have new options, new players, to help us toward a goal.
But how do we gain that perspective? How do we find our own blind spots, since by definition they are the thing we can’t see?!
Well, here are a couple suggestions:
1. Ask for feedback from trusted colleagues (especially the ones you don’t usually agree with!) Getting another person’s perspective can be eye opening, if you’re willing to hear it. Be aware: whatever they say will likely sound wrong. Of course it would! If you agreed with them right off the bat, it wouldn’t be something in your blind spot! So be sure you’re in a receptive frame of mind when you ask for their feedback, and promise yourself you won’t refute it instantly, you’ll just accept the feedback and consider it. (See our post on Accepting Feedback Gracefully.) of course, 360 assessments are the ultimate request for feedback on blind spots!
2. Play a game with yourself: Ask yourself how someone else would handle a given situation. Try out leaders you respect and admire, as well as those you don’t. This will help get your creative juices flowing. Once you see that there are millions of options, the ideas will flow more easily.
3. Get a coach. This is our strength: helping people find new options, not just for one situation, but for the very process of how they think.
4. Read and research. The more you’re exposed to ideas of others, the more you can see how many different ways there are to see an issue, or a leadership challenge, or a culture change. Be curious about ideas and how others operate.
5. Take breaks. Taking breaks, including actual vacations where you do NOT have your phone on and do NOT answer any emails, gives us more perspective and allows us to come back to work not only refreshed, but able to see things in new ways. Maybe a little light will creep into the blind spots while you’re not looking.
Next time you’re watching your favorite football team, see how many times they run exactly the same play during the game. I’ll guarantee you they do not run the same play the entire time and win the game. We can’t do that as leaders either.
If you’re feeling like your game could use a few more plays, contact us for access to a new playbook!