Owners, executives, and bosses hold their own businesses back. That statement might hit a little hard if you fit the description. You might protest and say, “No, it’s the market!” or “it’s the competition!” or “it’s our lack of ___________(fill in the blank with your most frustrating operational challenge!” Conversely, you might agree with this statement and shake your head and think — “of course, that is why I hire people.” But this is not about the technical skills you lack and hire other people to perform.
Your blind spots are your own personal human weaknesses. They show up as character traits like stubbornness, perfectionism, micromanagement, grandiose thinking or insecurity over big decisions. We all have some of these types of issues, and we can all see them more clearly in other people than we can in ourselves. If you have a high functioning team, it is because you know how to place people where they shine best. Good managers and bosses know where their best players fall short and utilize that knowledge to help both the individual and the team perform more effectively. Who is helping you perform more effectively as a leader?
I have been in the unusual position of reporting directly to various business owners and CEOs for most of my twenty-two year career. Five years ago, I became the new CEO of a small organization myself. In a small business, you do not always get to be just the executive. Sometimes you are the janitor or the human resources department or the business plan writer too. I will never forget the afternoon that two of my senior managers sat me down for a conversation. “We know you have a lot on your plate,” they started. “You are the CEO. You need to focus less on the operations and more on building external relationships. We need growth, and in order to do that we need partners. You can trust us to take the day to day work off your plate.” I was stunned. And it was not because I was offended. It was because they truly wanted to see me and the organization succeed. But they also saw something about myself that I did not. I was being responsible and doing administrative work that needed to be done, but I was going to be the one holding the organization back if I did not change.
I took their advice. And the two of them made a great team and kept their word to maintain operations. Just a few years later, other industry professionals who were running similarly sized organizations continually asked me how I managed to be so externally involved. Most did not seem to believe me when I shared how this conversation changed my perspective on where my focus should lie. I spoke regularly at industry events, wrote for publications, and held visible external roles while they were holding down their respective offices. When people move into a leadership role they receive less constructive feedback than when in a junior position. This Harvard Business Review article suggests it is because employees fear the ability a manager or boss has to take their job or make their life difficult at work. The more power you hold over someone, the less likely they are to tell you the truth if they do not trust you.
I have had many great leaders and managers in my life time, but I also knew what it is like to work for a key organizational decision maker who does not see their own blind spots. Because I had already seen the other side of the equation, I took my team’s request to heart quickly. I worked for a small business owner who wanted to be the one winning all the time. I worked for an executive who outsourced too much of his responsibility. I worked for another CEO who did too much of the actual work rather than managing the team’s processes. In each of these situations, I could see how the manager was the one responsible for bottlenecks in the company’s growth. If you are a business owner or senior manager, your employees are likely to see your barrier-producing behaviors clearly as well.
Humility and self awareness are keys to correcting this situation. If you are in senior leadership, you did not get there because you are perfect. Managers, owners, executives and key decision makers can easily forget to own their own weaknesses, especially when key performance indicators are going in the right direction. But economic cycles change, and your strategy will not always go smoothly. If you want your business to grow, build a team. When you are in leadership, the most critical goal is that the team wins. You might be leading the team and making the decisions, but you need their perspective and honest input in order to have your own breakthrough. Sometimes you need your employees to critique you, and when they trust you enough to do so you need to receive it seriously. If you are in an executive role, you are likely the one driving the vision. But your personal capacity will be the limit to your business growth if your employees are only showing up for a paycheck.