Cornell left work early today, which was unusual for him. He felt frustrated.
Before and during the pandemic, whether working from the office or home, he was used to putting in long hours. His company’s business was growing, and he was in the thick of their new product development and launch. He made regular presentations to the executive committee, spoke frequently with his VP, Rosemary, as they worked through thorny issues, and knew the technical details inside and out.
As the time for midyear evaluations approached, he expected an outstanding review and a coveted promotion. He and his wife were already thinking about how they would use the extra money. It was time to look for a larger home to accommodate their growing family.
When Rosemary sent him a message yesterday asking him to meet her at the office today, he thought she would be sharing the good news with him. He was excited and upbeat as they sat down in a secluded corner of the cavernous, open, but mostly empty, workspace. She quickly got to the point. He got an increase in pay, but it wasn’t a promotion.
More specifically, she shared some “developmental needs” that she wanted him to work on. Sure, she spoke a lot about the things he was doing well, but the gut punch was where she wanted him to improve.
Cornell knew every other member of the team well. He had his own opinions about their strengths and limitations, and what they really contributed to the group project. And in his not so humble opinion, he was the strongest link.
But for some reason, Rosemary didn’t see it that way. She wanted him to go deeper in his analysis of problems, and to be more client-focused. He made a mental checklist of all the reasons why her feedback was off base. Clearly, she wasn’t prioritizing the right issues. And she probably withheld his promotion so she could promote his colleague Jackie, because everyone knew she was Rosemary’s favorite.
Was he self-aware?
Cornell had a blind spot. He lacked awareness about how others perceived his behavior. Rosemary and other leaders, even a few of his colleagues, could see how his client interactions and work product, while acceptable, could improve. But Cornell’s presence was so confident that no one really knew how to approach him about it. And he wasn’t particularly receptive to feedback on small things, so no one ventured to provide feedback on deeper issues.
Some individuals in this position will become frustrated and look for opportunities at another company. And while they might find a new job with higher pay and a better title, the question is, what will they learn? If they don’t learn, their growth will again be limited by their blind spot.
If you’ve driven a vehicle, you’re familiar with the blind spots in the areas behind your left and right shoulders. They’re the hardest areas to see, and if another vehicle is in your blind spot when you’re trying to change lanes, you could have an accident.
The Johari Window is a model that categorizes things that others know about us, but we don’t know about ourselves, as a blind spot. Some of those topics are easy for others to communicate to us because they’re not threatening, but others are more difficult because they conflict with our ideal sense of self.
Automotive manufacturers have designed warning signals like the yellow light on side-view mirrors to let us know when a vehicle is in a blind spot. Drivers ignore it at their own and others’ peril.
The warning signals for people aren’t as easy. And when a leader or co-worker similarly signals that there’s something in our blind spot that we need to take notice of, sometimes we ignore it or attribute it to their faulty vision.
We must all accept the fact that we have blind spots. The goal, though, is to be open to feedback on what’s in them. Leaders have the key responsibility to provide this feedback, and while some do a better job than others at it, receptivity on the part of the employee is a key factor.
Ask the hard questions, share valuable information
If you’re really interested in your growth and development, initiate the conversation around your blind spots with your leader and teammates. There are two simple approaches.
- Ask for feedback from leaders, colleagues and direct reports using a formal process, or informally ask a trusted colleague or your human resources business partner to collect and summarize the feedback.
- Ask your leader, colleagues or team what you should start, stop or continue doing.
When feedback givers trust that their comments will be fairly considered without retribution and received with a spirit of appreciation, they are more willing to share openly and constructively.
As a leader, make it clear with your team that your goal is to help them grow and develop. Use your one-on-one feedback sessions to specifically discuss areas that may be blind spots. Share the Johari Window model with your team. Use it as a tool to facilitate discussion and set expectations for your communications.
Cornell now has a choice to make. He can remain blinded from success by rejecting the feedback, self-justifying his behavior and blaming others for off-base motivations. Or he can consider the feedback, lean in to understand it better and recognize that others may see things that he doesn’t see. Becoming more self-aware will open doors to deeper learning and broader growth for his career.