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How to Address Blind Spots in Your Company’s Leadership

Hugh Grant
How to Address Blind Spots in Your Company’s Leadership

Business leaders are responsible for keeping their organizations running. They make decisions each day to direct the course of business, ensure smooth workflows, and ultimately increase profitability. But unfortunately, all leaders are susceptible to blind spots.

How do these blind spots arise, and what can we do about them?

The Nature and Effects of Blind Spots

If you sit down with any business leader and ask them to list the strengths and weaknesses of the organization they manage, they'll probably be able to list several items in each category. This is good, and to be expected. However, there are probably additional strengths and weaknesses the leader doesn't name or recognize; these are unknowns, and they are the byproduct of some kind of blind spot.

There are many root causes of blind spots. Sometimes, they arise simply because of ignorance or unwillingness to learn. More commonly, they arise due to biases, heuristics, and other forms of cognitive distortion. In other cases, they arise simply because the leader doesn't have enough time in the day to examine every area of the business or learn everything they wish they could.

In any case, blind spots can be devastating. They can cause you to overlook critical factors in your business, ultimately making your decisions worse. They can cause you to miss out on potential optimizations that can make the business more profitable. They can even weaken your position as a leader, especially if your team members notice that your blind spots are particularly prominent.

How to Address Blind Spots in Your Company’s Leadership

So what can you do to address these blind spots, even if you're not sure you have them?

·       Hire third party experts. One of the best things you can do is hire third party experts, and trust them as they examine various elements of your business. For example,

process engineering experts provide a multitude of engineering and design services that can help you optimize your manufacturing systems from top to bottom. They can identify problems and opportunities for improvement in your mechanical and electrical systems, your workflows, and even your plant layout and automation capabilities. Seasoned experts in a given field are much more likely to catch all the little things that upper managers are likely to miss. Moreover, they'll be able to present ideal solutions and collaborate with business leaders to find balance when those solutions come with trade-offs.

·       Learn to recognize data holes. Data is a good thing, and business leaders who make decisions primarily with objective data have a massive edge over business leaders who don't. However, it's a mistake to assume that your data streams are complete or perfect. In reality, most data streams are inaccurate, unreliable, incomplete, and incapable of supporting decisions entirely by themselves. This isn't a death sentence for the data analytics department; instead, it's simply something you have to account for. You have to understand where the holes in your data are, so you can incorporate some degree of uncertainty and risk into your decision considerations.

·       Account for human biases. Humans suffer from a long list of inherent biases. We also have biases that arise as a result of our experiences. It's impossible to learn all of these, and it's impossible to recognize them all in yourself with perfect accuracy. However, every step you take to account for human biases in your decision making can be beneficial. For example, most people are aware of confirmation bias – the bias that makes us disproportionately weigh evidence that agrees with our preconceived notions and disproportionately discard or undermine evidence that disagrees with our preconceived notions. Knowing that this affects you, you can intentionally seek out and play up evidence that disagrees with you in an effort to challenge your assumptions.

·       Decentralize decision making. Another strategy for business leaders is to decentralize decision making. Instead of forcing all decisions to go up the corporate ladder and be settled by detached bureaucrats at the top, allow lower-level employees to make decisions for themselves, at least to a degree. The closer you get to the ground level, the more intimately familiar these people will be with the circumstances of their work. That doesn't mean they'll always make great decisions, but they will be able to make decisions with fewer blind spots.

·       Encourage cross training and frequent departmental visits. If you want to get closer to the work yourself, consider making time for more cross training and departmental visits. It's important for leaders to be familiar with the work their employees are doing, so immerse yourself in those responsibilities and cultivate a better perspective.

·       Practice more competitive research. You can also pursue more in-depth competitive research. You and your competitors probably have at least some complementary blind spots; in other words, you know things they don’t, and they know things you don't. The better you understand your competitors’ internal machinations, the better you'll be able to account for your own cognitive holes.

The insidious nature of blind spots means most people who have them aren't aware they're there. Accordingly, all of us must assume that we have blind spots lurking in our minds, misleading us and causing us to overlook important components and considerations that could help us make our businesses better. 

Fortunately, there is no shortage of strategies that can help us identify, address, and eliminate these blind spots.

Hugh Grant
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