How to avoid leadership blind spots

Blind spots prevent us from noticing opportunities, or worse, they lead us off cliffs. Here are some well-recognised methods to avoid getting blindsided

Nick Vaidya
Updated: Mar 29, 2024 02:30:06 PM UTC
Image: Shutterstock

If you learned there was a snake in your garage, you'd tread with an abundance of caution and heightened awareness. Such vigilance could save you from a snake bite. On the other hand, a blissfully oblivious child trouncing around might not be so lucky. That's the essence of living in awareness: Surviving and thriving.

Alcoholism provides another perfect example of the power of awareness. Data suggests that the hardest part of the battle is recognising one's alcoholism. Given this, it behooves us to wonder how much our ignorance might cost us when it comes to health, wealth, and well-being.

When we make mistakes, there are times we fail to see things; other times, we see but cannot make sense of them, as in reading but not understanding, and yet other times, we see but refuse to accept what we understand.

Such behaviours are universal, cutting across business and life, but the notoriety is public and pronounced in business.

Starting with 85 percent of the market share, Henry Ford almost bankrupted his namesake company by refusing to colour the Model T for almost 15 years, behind the market. Dick Fuld of Lehman Brothers destroyed the century-old firm by ignoring market realities and the voice of his head of risk. For several months, Steve Jobs stuck to herbal treatment instead of seeking an oncologist for his very treatable cancer. It cost him his life. Ron Johnson of Apple joined JC Penney as the CEO to reinvent and grow the company. Instead, he burnt it to the ground by ramrodding through the voices of long-standing stakeholders. Blockbuster, Kodak, Kingfisher, Blackberry, and Segway are other notorious examples of leadership blind spots.

Also Read- Executives must ask if the world is better off because their business is in it: Paul Polman

We all have blind spots that prevent us from opening the gateways to opportunities or, worse, leading us off precipitous cliffs. The truth is we are our biggest problem, and as such, our most significant return on investment lies within ourselves. No matter your current station in life, some insights can uplift you to your next destination, but only if you get out of your own way. Foresight makes the difference between greatness and ordinary. Even the smallest decisions demand clarity of vision and decisiveness of action.

If we're unhappy with where we are or desire to do better, then we must change what we've been doing. We need to prepare and be ready to protect ourselves from our blind spots. We must act like the medieval knights who fortified themselves with castles, walls, moats, gates, murder holes, drawbridges, battlements, watchtowers, ramparts, portcullises, and other defences.

Lately, the world has ratcheted up in VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, & Ambiguity), far exceeding human adaptability. In this mercurial environment, it is all the more imperative to build systems to avoid getting blindsided. So what is a person to do? There is a plethora of actions one can take. I briefly touch upon a few well-recognised ones here, emphasising their often-ignored relevance. However, the mental clarity to be gained by adopting the following practices depends on the strength of your 'inner core', which is a topic for another article.

Systems Thinking

The heuristics and algorithms we employ to analyse new information and construct mental models of how things work are fundamental to human intelligence. In business, they can be specific to each individual. What works for Donald Trump might not work for others. Most good leaders repeatedly use their models to achieve great results. At the root of systems thinking is the task of forming good experiments and developing causal models of what is going on and desired. Aside from the regular SWOT of your situation, the formal practice of systematically developing representative issue trees and path diagrams in answering complex questions is powerful. The culture of living and behaving with awareness is central to discovering and using these tools. Pay attention, as Newton did to the falling apples. JFK possibly prevented a third world war during the Cuban missile crisis as he developed the existing model of Group Decision-Making. This is a brilliant example that every CEO needs to know about.


Many recognised leaders, like Bill Gates and former Google Chairman Eric Schmidt, publicly extoll the virtue and necessity of Executive Coaching. Finding a top executive who has not worked with one is rare. A coach is a moderator or a catalyst. They help you think clearly. It is not their job to give you advice or solve your problem. Their job is to ask good questions. Eric Schmidt penned "The Trillion Dollar Coach" as a tribute to his coach, Bill Campbell, renowned for coaching top leaders at Apple, Amazon, Google, and Facebook.

Also Read- Do leaders learn more from success or failure?

Nonetheless, finding the right fitting coach is critical to the quality of outcomes. A good coach, like Socrates, acts as a leadership-midwife, bringing about the birth of a leader's best ideas and solutions, all while incubating self-awareness to align the ideas with the person. For a CEO, it is almost negligent not to have the right coach in the same way as it would be for an athlete. Even Michael Phelps worked with a coach.


Most great entrepreneurs and CEOs are known for adopting a framework (or two) that is aligned with their culture and goals—as a rallying cry at their firms: Richard Branson for Professors Kim and Mauborgne's Blue Ocean Strategy at the Virgin Group in creating disruptive business across various industries, Steve Job's for Agile, Jeff Bezos for the theory of constraints, and Uber for Network Effects. Though not widely known, SMBs also share this trait, such as Dallas-based Improving, which revolves around Trust (a book by Covey) as the key operating value. Or Bangalore-based Mu Sigma thrives on Experimentation Principles, an idea extensively written about in the namesake book by Harvard Professor Thomke.

Also Read- Knowing and recognizing leadership blind spots

Why are frameworks so powerful? Because they are based on data and empirical evidence, they offer the ultimate clarity wherever possible. Carefully selected frameworks act as potent tools in business strategy, akin to the clarifying effect alum has in solution. As alum purifies water by precipitating impurities, frameworks distil complex business challenges into clear, actionable insights. When thoughtfully chosen and diligently applied, these frameworks serve as guiding beacons, illuminating pathways to success amidst uncertainty. They provide structure, coherence, and direction to decision-making processes, empowering entrepreneurs and CEOs to navigate turbulent waters confidently. Much like alum clarifies murky liquids, frameworks clarify organisational strategy, enabling leaders to crystallise their vision, align their teams, and achieve transformative outcomes.


We all know a few people who can certainly benefit from feedback. In the same way, some people are probably dying to give us feedback, too. However, there is a science and art to giving and taking successful and productive feedback. First, feedback needs to be valid and reliable—the science. Second, it needs to be impactful for absorption—the art. Fortunately for us, we have made significant progress on this frontier in the last century. We can achieve category leadership behaviours with proper training and adoption across teams. It is wise to recognise that default feedback mechanisms are ineffective and inefficient compared to best practices.

Also Read- Nothing as powerful as culture that can influence behaviour: Marcus Collins

Churchill drew strength from the feedback he systematically gathered from the British public and was able to act decisively despite the tremendous pressure to the contrary from various political quarters and successfully led the country during a time of war. He was one of the greatest leaders of our time who benefited from feedback-based clarity.

Lincoln, Mandella, Gates, Bazos, and Nadella are some other leaders known for actively soliciting feedback and input into their decision-making.


Our ability to stay curious, courageous, adaptable, and purposeful is at the root of everything. The idea that our minds could play games with us has to be deeply ingrained in our psyche. Take precautions and work on your blind spots.

The author is an Executive Search, Culture, & Strategy Coach & Speaker at Total Performance Transformation. He travels from Dallas, TX and New Delhi, India.

The thoughts and opinions shared here are of the author.

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