top of page

Why You May Be A Worse Leader Than You Think

It’s Time To Address Your Blind Spots

large rocks block a path

Rohit tried to focus on the email he was composing. But his mind kept veering elsewhere.

“How could I have been so blind about myself?” he wondered.

Rohit was reeling from a report I’d sent him a couple of days earlier. It synthesized 360-degree feedback from a dozen people I’d interviewed – a good balance of his peers, subordinates, and superiors. The report highlighted his strengths and development opportunities as seen through his colleagues’ eyes.

So what was so shocking? Some of Rohit’s co-workers had said they experienced him as deliberately vague – even underhanded at times. That stung. A lot. Up until that report, he’d always prided himself on his transparency and straight-shooting.

But the feedback was unmistakable. The sheer volume of these comments was more than compelling, and the language was unambiguous. It was clear that Rohit’s peers and superiors believed he sometimes managed a cagey plan known only to him. They were actually beginning to question his trustworthiness, despite his technical prowess.

Naturally, Rohit was aghast. What was going on here? How was he showing up this way when he intended to show up so differently? Grappling with this question was keeping him from writing his email and causing him enormous angst. He felt frustrated and disheartened.

‍How Blind Spots Derail Careers

Over my many years as a CFO at companies like Microsoft and Novartis, and in my executive coaching practice, I’ve witnessed this combination of disappointment and perplexity countless times when high-performing executives receive candid feedback.

I’ve seen it so often, in fact, that I always warn execs ahead of time that skilled feedback inevitably exposes warts – those unpleasant behavioral quirks we all have. However, despite theoretically understanding this warning, they almost always suffer pain and disbelief when the moment of truth arrives.

The truth is that everyone has blind spots as part and parcel of the human condition. In my experience, about 80% of our self-perception overlaps the perceptions others have of us. The remaining 20% corresponds to our blind spots – those aspects of our behavior known to others but not known to ourselves (cue scary music, preferably from Jaws).

Minor blind spots are no big deal. But the big ones can derail careers. I call them “big rocks” because they’re like boulders that can throw freight trains off the tracks.

Getting A Grasp On The Big Rocks

Most executives have two or three big rocks they need to manage. Notice I said manage, not obliterate. That’s because most people’s big rocks are rooted in their personality. But you can’t change your personality. It took on most of its form by the time you were four years old, and it doesn’t change much after that.

The good news is that even though you can’t change your personality, you can manage it. And the key to managing it is self-awareness. After all, you can’t work on quirks you don’t know to exist.

All of which brings us back to feedback.

As I’ve seen dozens of times, nothing creates a jolt of self-awareness better – or quicker – than getting a high-quality critique of your leadership behaviors. Constructive feedback shines a bright light on your big rocks, especially when paired with a robust personality assessment like the Hogan Assessment.

Once you’ve got a clear view of your unproductive behaviors (like acting cynical, fearing failure, or micromanaging), that’s when the real work begins.

A skilled executive coach can teach you techniques to better manage your personality, dramatically accelerate your development, and, ultimately, make you a more effective leader.

Just as a tennis coach can make you a stronger tennis player, an executive coach can make you a stronger executive. And as fine-tuning your form on the tennis court often yields significant point gains, fine-tuning your behavior on the corporate playing field can pay big dividends for your career.

Three Steps To Clear Your Path

As self-aware as we think we are, we all have a few major blind spots. Here are three steps you can take to identify your big rocks and knock them off the tracks before they derail your career:

  1. Get high-quality feedback. Tell your boss you want to understand your development opportunities better and work on them to become a more impactful leader. (She’ll high-five you.) Engage a top-notch executive coach to interview your colleagues and interpret their feedback.

  2. Integrate the feedback. Work with your executive coach to overcome your shock and disbelief of your co-workers’ feedback, to accept those realities, and to understand the meaning of their comments. Remember, you can only remove the big rocks from the tracks when you can see them clearly.

  3. Act on the feedback. This step requires dedication and consistent elbow grease. You’ve taken years to polish your technical skills; it’s going to take more than a flip of a switch to master your personality quirks. A good coach will give you plenty of homework. Do the reps – or you won’t get the payoff.

Rohit initially struggled to come to grips with his co-workers’ feedback. But accepting reality is often painful – and as the old saying goes, no pain, no gain.

Fortunately, Rohit was no stranger to effort and growth. More importantly, he recognized that taking his leadership effectiveness to the next level would require as much focus and dedication as he gave when mastering his technical excellence. He was willing to do the work to become a more impactful leader.

Your First Go-Do Is Easy

When I worked at Microsoft, it wasn’t enough to throw ideas at people and see what stuck. Our culture insisted on making information actionable; we wanted people to go do something genuinely impactful. We called these actions “go-do’s.”

You’ve read this far. Don’t leave it at that. Here’s your go-do: This week, take step one and tell your boss you want to get high quality feedback to understand your development opportunities better.

Go do it and see what happens. My money says shoving those big rocks off your tracks will fire up your career like never before.


bottom of page