The Power and Potential of Blind Spots

Sunset 10-25-2019

Whoa Nellie, what a week.  How are you?  What’s vexing you most right now?  What’s holding you up?

A 651 KB PDF sits portentously in my work inbox.

It’s the report of the 14 people who completed surveys for my 360 leadership evaluation.  What a fantastic learning opportunity (assuming the feedback is concrete and actionable)!  I had planned to do it last winter, and then I procrastinated.  And then the pandemic hit.  At home and not seeing patients, I debated whether to bother people with such a frivolous ask.  I decided to proceed because as a leader, what better chance and reason to get real time feedback than during a crisis?  And will there be a better time in the coming months?  I am grateful to/for the 14 respondents.

My biggest fear is that I will be blindsided, and then frozen, by unexpected and severely negative feedback.  I’d say I have a moderate case of imposter syndrome.  So this report carries, in my lizard brain, a high risk of confirming every insecurity I harbor about my leadership, personality, and value to my (any!) organization.  *deep breath*

Johari Window

https://www.communicationtheory.org/the-johari-window-model/

 

Thankfully I am more than my threat-vigilant self; I can receive feedback calmly and rationally.  And, I have support.  One of my LOH classmates introduced me to the Johari Window model the other day.  How have I not come across (remembered) this model before now?  Into the first of the four panes, my ‘Arena’, I put aspects of my leadership style that are known to both myself and others—strengths and weaknesses.  A second pane, my ‘Façade,’ comprises things known to me but that I conceal from others.  These can include deep seated fears, insecurities, traumas, and other emotional baggage.  I bet many of us underestimate the influence and consequences of façade traits on our leadership style and results.  My 360 will show what lives in the upper right pane, my ‘Blind Spot(s)’—what is known to others and not known to me—hence the risk for being ‘blindsided.’  Finally, the parts of my leadership that are as yet unknown to both myself and to others are simply labelled ‘Unknown.’  I have renamed this quadrant ‘Potential for Supported Learning and Growth.’

The best possible result from this 360 exercise is a new, clear, and useful awareness of my leadership Blind Spots.  In her book Insight, Tasha Eurich asserts that true, effective self-awareness embraces and processes both the self-known and other-known domains, and their intersection.  I plan to map out my Johari Window for both strengths and weaknesses before opening my report.  Then I can organize them into broad categories as a framework for approaching the results, and see how well they reconcile (or not).

But beyond professional leadership in my little clinical practice, how else can I apply this self-awareness framework?  How can this exercise inform larger, more global  relationships and culture?

Racism

In July, 2016, I wrote this post about racism and listening for peace.  I’m glad to have documented my thoughts and experiences over the years.  Rereading it now, I can see how I have both sustained and evolved my attitudes on addressing racism.  I still respect all points of view, at least partially.  But I am now more willing to take risks and engage in the hard conversations, to show that I have the capacity to address complexity, to hold tension between divergent and opposing perspectives.  I used to fear being misconstrued as a member of an antagonist monolith.  I am less afraid today to confront such assumptions that others may make of me (and I of them), to invite dialog, to withstand the discomfort of digging in and exchanging in earnest.  This includes with those whose ideology I oppose, as well as those with whom I align.

A principal value of inviting divergent dialog, like the 360 evaluation, is to reveal my Blind Spots.  For instance, even as I think of myself as ‘not racist,’ what behaviors have I that actually are racist, or at least ignorant and complicit?  How can I be more anti-racist?  What can the mirror show me that I can act on and improve, to make a positive difference?

For more on the vital importance and dire need for more of this kind of engagement and self-reflection, read David French’s piece from this morning, “American Racism: We’ve Got So Very Far to Go.”

For an excellent example of how Blind Spots manifest publicly, and how this can instruct us, read John Pavlovitz’s excellent essay on how Drew Brees slammed straight into the mirror as blind as any of us.

We can all map out Johari Window panes for our racism and anti-racism, just like leadership strengths and weaknesses.  Then we can shut up and listen to our Black friends and colleagues, learn in earnest about how racism really is built into and manifests in every aspect of our national heritage and culture.  We can speak up and act when we witness racist thought, attitude, behavior, words, decisions, and policies.  Each of us, in small and still significant ways, can lighten the burden our Black peers carry—we can and should share the work of dismantling our oppressive and marginalizing, racist systems.

It all starts with awareness—the closer to 360 the better.

Diversify Your Network

DSC_0505

NaBloPoMo 2018:  What I’m Learning

Are you friends with a plumber?  My friend Dennis is, or was, as of c.1997.  I forget his friend’s name, let’s call him Frank; they knew each other in high school.  Dennis and I were both medical students when I met Frank.  Looking back he must have thought I was a little strange.  I asked what he did for a living, and when he told me he was a plumber I interrogated him, hard.  “What’s that like?  How do you train, is there a school (I was a straight-through biology pre-med who knew next to nothing about trade schools)?  What are your hours like, are there days when you don’t work?  How do you figure out what the problem is?”  I was just so curious—I had never met anyone who did that kind of work, and it was so different from anything I knew.  He didn’t talk to me for long.  We were at Dennis’s birthday party and Frank quickly found other friends to connect with.

I’m so grateful to work in medicine, where I get to meet people from all walks of life every day.  In the exam room I have met coders, lawyers, teachers, construction workers, professional dog walkers, stylists, food critics, financial columnists, hedge fund managers, engineers, HR directors, leadership coaches, musicians, and myriad others…but I can’t remember any plumbers.  I love when I have time to ask, “What’s that like?” and “What do you spend your days doing?”  I always learn something new, and the best days are when I find some parallel between our work lives.  My husband the orthopaedic surgeon remembers patients by their x-rays.  I remember them by their social histories.

The Harvard Business Review sent an article to my inbox today entitled, “How to Diversity Your Professional Network.”  It cites studies that show “people who are connected across heterogeneous groups and who have more-diverse contacts come up with more creative ideas and original solutions.”  Reading it triggered an avalanche of memories and cognitive dot-connecting, hence my story about Frank.

First, I’m reminded of my first coaching call after accepting my new role at work.  Coach Christine asked about my ‘allies,’ the people whose counsel I value and who will hold me up and accountable through the growth process and pains that are leadership.  She pointed out that allies are not always people who agree with me.  They can be my challengers, my opposition, my rivals.  Through them, I am forced to grapple with my own integrity; they serve as the crucible for my values.  This idea helps me stay open to people whom I might otherwise dismiss.  Diversify.

Second, I remembered of The Big Sort, by Bill Bishop.  It’s thick with data and research, but the part that struck me hardest was the idea that our ideology becomes more extreme when we spend time with like-minded people.  I suppose you might think, well yeah, duh.  But when you consider how this affects decision making on the individual, community, and policy levels, it’s a little scary.  In his description of research by Cass Sunstein and colleagues, Conor Friedersdorf writes:

But for all the benefits of agreement, solidarity, and spending time with like-minded people, there is compelling evidence of a big cost: the likeminded make us more confident that we know everything and more set and extreme in our views. And that makes groups of like-minded people more prone to groupthink, more vulnerable to fallacies, and less circumspect and moderate in irreversible decisions they make.

Groupthink.  That reminded me of Originals by Adam Grant, a book I have listened to at least twice now.  As I have thought incessantly about culture and how to nurture a healthy one where I work, Grant’s advice on hiring for contribution rather than fit holds my feet to the fire:

Emphasizing cultural fit leads you to bring in a bunch of people who think in similar ways to your existing employees. There’s evidence that once a company goes public, those that hire on cultural fit actually grow more slowly because they struggle to innovate and change. It’s wiser to follow the example from the design firm IDEO, and hire on cultural contribution. Instead of looking for people who fit the culture, ask what’s missing from your culture, and select people who can bring that to the table.

So what does all this mean?  I have decided to take it as validation of my curiosity and desire to learn as much as I can from a vast array of different people.  Whether I know them socially or professionally, whether our diversity is race, culture, politics, religion, or music preference, there is always something that connects us.  The search and exploration are what make life colorful and fun.

I wonder whom I’ll get to meet tomorrow?