What’s your leadership blind spot? Everyone has one, except the leaders who have specifically found it and compensated for it. Those are the leaders with the key support people whose gifts and abilities complement their strong suits.
Why does this matter? It’s the yin and the yang of it all, wholeness, balance. If you’re really good at what you naturally do, you could be way more effective if you complemented your natural strengths with the opposite attributes. Constant drive needs down time to not burn out, aka rhythm. Big ideas need attention to detail, right to the very end to come to fruition to be billable. Attention to detail needs awareness of the big picture to discern focus and allocation of resources to be most profitable. Conformity and group think need creativity and a unique selling proposition to stand out in the crowd. Unique and special require the stability of structure and company culture to ensure longevity. The list goes on.
How do you see what you are blind too? Carefully and deliberately.
Big Picture: What do all of the people who left the organization in the last two years have in common? If you, or your HR director, were to go back through their personnel files and list the attributes that best describe their character and style, where are there consistencies? In very large companies look at the people who left by department or by tier to calculate a missing link.
Close Up & Personal: Most companies do reviews top down. Reversing that would take an enormous amount of trust and humility for subordinates to feel they could be really honest without fear of losing their job or other backlash. Do not go near that without legal counsel or professional human resources support. However, if that’s the case, you most definitely have a blind spot. One that could be costing you serious limits to profit, growth or even staying in business.
Recruiting feedback from three to five or your best customers and vendors keeps the lines of communication open. You also gain insights into their immediate needs without setting off bells and whistles for your people. Let them know you value their opinion and hope to use their feedback to improve customer satisfaction and grow your customer base. Ask directly what do they like best about working with you and if there was one place you could improve or alter, what would that be. People in general love to be helpful, seen as knowledgeable and have their opinions valued.
Ideally this is set up over the phone as a thank you / quality improvement lunch. Ask them then what you’re looking for and if they could jot down their thoughts beforehand. Talk about them over lunch for further detail and clarification. If you don’t take notes during lunch (recommended), write everything down before you pull away after. You are talking about their business; they won’t mind your writing things down. Follow up with an email if you feel it warrants but paying for lunch should be plenty.
Word of Caution
Take nothing personal. You’ve asked for their opinion and that’s what you got. Asking in person gives you the chance to gage their mood and have the benefit of voice and body language to assess tone but it can put some people in an uncomfortable position. Sending a well written email can get to the point but may not be taken as seriously. Catching them on a bad day can invoke a tone that’s not really for you.
Be careful who you ask. Some people are more blunt, more critical or negative than others. Not everyone is good at feedback, especially written (if you’re asking by email). These are people you are already in relationship with, choose deliberately.
You have to go into this curious and interested in building your relationships and your own professional development. If you’re just fishing for complements and hoping for them to not have any room for improvement feedback, don’t even ask. At best you’ll get your feelings hurt, worst lose a client, customer or friend.
When All Is Said & Done
Leadership is still about inspiring those who follow you. Do your attitudes, behavior and company culture move them to do their best because they’re excited about the work you are all doing or are they just showing up? If it is really one or two individuals that are the problem, how can you help motivate them? If there is a pattern or general frustration of a department or companywide issue, it’s often systemic. With systemic issues the problem starts at a higher level within the organization but becomes visible further down.