“Was blind, but now I see.”
John Newton, Amazing Grace
What are you blind to as a leader? This is obviously a loaded question. “How can I know what I am blind to if I am blind to it?” you ask. But your attempt to answer this question can be a powerful exploration for you and reveal many things about you as a leader.
We are all blind to many things. Think of an Olympic sized swimming pool. The water in that pool represents what is knowable in the world, all of the facts that we could discover on the Internet, from the average rainfall in 1956 in sub-Saharan Africa to the cost of milk in a supermarket in Covina, California. Now, let’s look at what is known by you. Well lots of things, right? You have been on this earth for many years. So let’s take what is known by you and put it in our Olympic sized pool of what is knowable. How much water would that represent? A glassful? A thimbleful? The proverbial spit in the ocean?
So, we have limited knowledge, and that’s just the facts. This doesn’t touch the human knowledge of feelings and behavior and intuition that a leader must use daily. Looking at it this way we can see that we are likely blind to many things. We have some facts, our opinions, our assessments, and our judgments, which may or may not be true or fair and many times can keep us blind. Because we are so certain that we have the answer, that we know what is right or wrong, we are blind to other possibilities, and this can be detrimental to us as leaders. You might feel certain that your team thinks you are doing a terrific job as a leader, but in reality you are blind to strong moods of resignation and resentment that are happening within your team. Your blindness keeps you from changing course, having deeper and more profitable conversations with your team that could take everyone to another level.
There is good news though. We can choose to be open to learning, open to being a new observer of the world. These skills can be learned and practiced, and looked upon as an enriching opportunity. To be able to see what you have been blind to can be a phenomenal gift – that moment of new perception. A few ways to get there:
Become aware of how you are using language: Instead of language being descriptive, we can start to see that it is actually generative. For instance, if you tend to use black and white words such as right/wrong, good/bad, and always/never you are actually already determining the outcome. The phrase “I am a great leader!” creates a different way of observing your world than, “I am a competent leader who is very open to learning more about how to effectively lead my team.” Both sentences create a future, but the second sentence allows you as a leader to be open to what you may have been blind to.
Become aware of the moods/emotions you tend to experience: If, as a leader you tend to be a victim, a victim of corporate, a victim of the ineptitude of others, etc., you will likely see what that mood allows you to see – that is all of the ways you are a victim. Conversely, if you experience the mood of gratitude on a regular basis, you will be more open to seeing every event as an opportunity to learn and grow, as opposed to staying where you are. Your moods and emotions will play a huge part in your level of awareness, so a true effort to explore your blindness has to start there.
Become aware of how your body is experiencing an event: Where do your moods and emotions live? In your body. Becoming aware of your body will help you to “see” with more than your eyes. There are millions of sensory receptors in the brain that communicate with our eyes, ears, heart, pulmonary system, gut, skin, etc. The more you become aware of how your body is reacting in a situation, the more you can allow it to help you not be blind. For instance, you are in a team meeting and start feeling uncomfortable, you can sense that a strong unpleasant tension has overtaken the room. Your perception here is a great ally is assessing how others are feeling and what the problem is, allowing you to take action.
We cannot help being blind to many things as a leader. However, if we create in ourselves an openness to all that is around us, and inside us, we can start to “see” differently, and create a new future for our teams and ourselves. Give it a try, start a practice of awareness. As for me, I am thinking I might want to go for a swim in a big pool, maybe soak up some knowledge.