I had an OD consultant/executive coach once tell me that a key employee, someone I had known for years, admired, and trusted without hesitation, was a blind spot for me.  I was quite surprised by this observation.  I had so much respect for this employee that I rarely questioned her recommendations and decisions.

This challenge from my coach caught me by surpirse and had me thinking for a long time.

  • Was this allegation accurate?  What had I missed in assessing this person and why?
    • If this is true, where might the business already be at risk?
      • How can I correct it, and how can I prevent it from happening again?

As many of us have experienced, the challenges in business come at you from many different directions, and it seems inevitable that you get blind sided by something that you just did not see coming.  It is also reasonable to expect that we have certain people on our teams for whom we have developed the utmost respect, who we have come to depend upon, and that perhaps we do not question enough.

Why do we do this?

  • Are certain aspects of the business outside of our comfort zone or area of expertise…certain areas we just do not like?
    • Do we have too much ground to cover, too many areas in which we are trying to remain abreast of all activities?
      • Are certain funtions requiring so much of our time that we are not paying enough attention to others?

All of these are valid/possible reasons.  Here are some thoughts on these issues:

Uncomfortable with certain aspects of the business?  Learn them…at least to the extent necessary to carry out your responsibilities!  Failure to do so creates an Imposter Syndrome in which your fear of looking incompetent causes you to not ask questions, which in turn furthers your lack of knowledge in that area and brings about the level of incompetence that you fear.

  • Dig into it in detail.  Study it; ask questions; learn it!
  • Identify a person (internally or externally) that you can speak with on a regular basis to improve your level of understanding.
  • Use participative decision making processes with your leadership team to get a variety of perspectives on key issues, and create a forum in which they can be discussed.
  • For more ideas about ways to get around that…see link http://www.scottneilson.com/?p=31

Not enough checks and balances in your organization structure or processes?

  • Evaluate your processes to ensure appropriate involvement from key stakeholders.
  • Evalaute the controls in the system to ensure that no one person has too much independence or too broad a span of control.

Not enough time to spend adequate time with each area of the business?  Look at where you are spending your time and where you are NOT!  Are you giving adequate time to each area of the business?  Are there some areas you favor because they are in your comfort zone and others you avoid because they are not?  This should be a red flag for you.

  • Force yourself to spend time in all areas of your responsibility.  Schedule it.  Do not cancel those meetings.
  • Identify those areas which you tend to avoid and build mechanisms to support you in paying attention to them.
  • Check your organization structure…is it too flat?  Do you have too many direct reports?

Are some of your leaders requiring too much of your time…or too little?

  • Evaluate their performance critically.  Do you need to make some changes?
  • Are there any who you leave alone more than others;  any that you just take it for granted that they have it all under control?  Are you really comfortable that they are doing everything correctly and that it is all under control?  Should you rethink that approach?
  • Think about which employees you hold in such high regard that you give them lots of space and do not check on as much as others.
    • Start spending more time with them.
    • Start looking at their work critically as if they were not a star performer.  However, make sure you tell them why you are doing this so they do not fear that they have suddenly fallen from your good graces.

Periodically challenge yourself in the ways listed above.  Look critically at those areas in which you feel quite comfortable.  You will certainly be surprised by things you will discover that you did not know existed…and you will be pleased when you see the problems that you will avoid by doing so.

For me the warning had been critical.  This employee had been making some assumptions that were seemingly quite minor and okay, but in the longer term could have led us down a dangerous path.  The heads up got me looking at the processes in detail and made me aware of those assumptions.  We made some changes and steered clear of some potential problems.  It did not lessen my opinion of that employee.  It made me aware of another level of compexity in being a leader that is so subtle that it often goes under the radar.