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Ten top blind spots for today's leaders

This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab

If you've ever watched one of television's popular singing competitions, you no doubt have marvelled at the number of obviously untalented individuals who go on stage anyway, thinking they can sing. Didn't anyone bother to tell them they have a tendency to veer off-key?

Many leaders also have shortcomings they don't know about, and these can diminish their effectiveness – or even derail their careers. Large, global studies have found that executives rate themselves as considerably more effective leaders than do their co-workers. For many, this gap in perception stems from the relative absence of trusted individuals who understand the executive's work and who can – and will – offer honest, objective feedback.

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Over the past decade, our company has compiled a significant database on leaders and their behaviour, specifically related to practices that achieve superior results and create high-commitment cultures. In comparing leaders' self-ratings with those of their direct reports and colleagues, we've found that executives tend to overlook certain practices more than others.

Analysis of our data has revealed the following top 10 leadership blind spots:

1. Ensuring that work groups have access to helpful and relevant measurement.

2. Showing commitment to developing their own technical and management skills.

3. Collaborating with others.

4. Addressing mistakes as opportunities for learning.

5. Providing timely feedback.

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6. Holding themselves accountable for delivering results.

7. Holding themselves accountable for nurturing a positive work environment.

8. Showing interest in the lives of their co-workers.

9. Looking inward when problems arise, rather than blaming others.

10. Making sure consequences that accrue are consistent with stated work priorities.

Despite such blind spots and a relative dearth of feedback as leaders are promoted to senior ranks, there is reason for optimism. This past summer, a study of more than 200 senior leaders conducted by the Center for Leadership Development and Research at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, Stanford University's Rock Center for Corporate Governance, and the Miles Group found that nearly 100 per cent of executives "stated that they are receptive to making changes based on feedback."

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The key is to adopt effective approaches for seeking and utilizing feedback. Self-awareness doesn't come easily or quickly, but there are things you can do right now to begin improving.

First, ask yourself honestly: Could any of these blind spots apply to me?

Second, ask a coach, mentor, or trusted colleague or friend to give you feedback relative to these and other possible blind spots.

Third, provide positive reinforcement to everyone who gives you feedback, especially when it's constructive in nature. That will make you more likely to receive continuing feedback both formally and informally.

Fourth, take the actions needed to address one of the blind spots or pieces of feedback. Be sure to track your progress consistently over time.

Fifth, repeat this process.

In today's global talent marketplace, senior leaders tend to be smart, experienced, action-oriented and adept at strategy. These are the "table stakes" required of entry. But what could really distinguish you in the years ahead is your ability to understand and reduce or eliminate your blind spots by actively seeking, understanding, and leveraging feedback.

Steve Jacobs is chairman and senior partner of the Pittsburg-based management consulting firm CLG, which has an office in Toronto, and lead author of The Behavior Breakthrough (@CLGBB).

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