Source: Photo by Ivan Aleksic on Unsplash
If you feel like you’re doing all the right things to position yourself as a strong leader—ready for that next level—but promotions keep passing you by, you might be suffering from the effects of a professional blind spot. I’m referring to unconscious behaviors and habits that you may not see, but others do. These actions can get in the way of showing up as your best self and, if never addressed, they could derail your career.
The good news is that you can manage these professional blind spots with small changes. And with some simple adjustments in your behaviors and attitudes, you can shift your professional trajectory.
Here are three examples of professional blind spots that I most often encounter when coaching leaders who have been overlooked:
Blind Spot 1: Believing that constant doing leads to success
Are you someone who’s never met a to-do list you didn’t like? Can you crank out deliverables at epic speed? Are you in a class of your own when it comes to organizing projects? While productivity is essential for success, you don’t want to get pigeonholed as someone whose biggest contribution is to seamlessly handle every detail. Instead of striving to be a “doer,” you need to also be seen as a “driver”—someone who can think big picture, communicate persuasively, and inspire others.
To break out of this rut, look beyond the details to the people. Let go of the idea that your value is based on your tangible output and mass technical skills. Instead, think of your impact in terms of how well you can engage, influence, and motivate others.
Be more intentional about moving your emphasis from tactical to strategic. Incorporate high-level objectives in your discussions to demonstrate that you have a clear line of sight to the bigger picture. Don’t rush through meetings, just briefing others or being briefed. Take the time to contribute your unique thoughts and perspectives based on your years of experience and your domain expertise. Doing so will show others that you can add value to a conversation and that you’ve developed some thought leadership.
Recognize that not every request or problem requires your immediate and personal attention. Learn to prioritize what will most move you and your team forward and master the art of delegation. This will not only free up your time to sharpen your leadership skills, but you’ll also be contributing to the growth of those on your team.
Finally, take on projects or initiatives that will shine a light on a different skill set. Let people see you as a big-picture thinker, a driver, a discoverer. And when you do, you’ll begin to change the false perception that you’re not yet ready for advancement.
Blind Spot 2: Expecting your teams to work at your pace
If you have the ability to work at peak velocity for hours on end, you have the potential to be an extraordinary leader. But if you expect everyone else to work at your pace or your capacity, then this attribute can hold you back. You don’t want to get a reputation as the person who leaves everyone else in your dust.
You can minimize that professional blind spot by watching for clues that people around you are getting tired or frustrated with your pace and deliberately slowing down. Try to meet them where they are by asking questions like, “Would it be helpful to take a break?” or, “Should I pause and recap?” If you notice people are feeling overwhelmed, you can ask, “What would you need for this to feel more doable?”
Think about how you set deadlines. Does every project get labeled “urgent,” or do you have the flexibility to reclassify some of them? Step back and consider what’s really necessary versus what’s reasonable, given the pace of your team. If you can generally relax the time constraints, you’ll get better cooperation from your employees when you really need them to turn up the heat.
Bringing up potential pitfalls and possible risks can be incredibly valuable during team discussions. But if you’re always playing that role, you may unknowingly develop a reputation as the voice of doom. Instead of adding value, you’ll start to come across as someone who is uncooperative, just making things harder for the team.
Even if it is your job to ensure due diligence, understand that not everything requires you to raise the red flag. Know when it’s the right time to push and when it’s the right time to hold back.
Focus on being supportive. Try to come up with alternatives that classify as a win-win solution and keep an open mind about ending the discussion with a compromise. Ultimately, you want to come across as persuasive, not contentious.
So how do we know if blind spots are stalling our career progress? We can’t fix the problem if we don’t know it’s there. That means we have to ask. We need feedback from our trusted colleagues, co-workers, and clients. Anyone who can share an outside perspective that might give us a glimpse at the blind spots holding us back.
Also, if feedback is so critical to success, why do we hesitate or even avoid it? On the one hand, we want to learn and grow, but we also want to be accepted just the way we are. Add to that that we may have had previous experiences with feedback that didn’t go so well. Asking for feedback can be scary.
But here’s the deal: if we want to advance in our careers, we need to get better at getting feedback so we can identify our reputation gaps and be more aware of our impact on others. When we work to reduce our blind spots, we can move forward to a more successful future.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about professional blind spots and the role it plays in your evolution as a leader.