Leadership Blind Spots - Part 1
My driving instructor was emphatic; “don’t forget to check your blind spot.” It was something he would remind me of every time I pulled off from a parking spot, or changed lane on a dual carriageway, until I finally got it into my head! By the time my test came around, there was no way I was going anywhere without checking my blind spot.
When I (eventually!) passed my test and was set loose on the motorways of the UK, I continued to check my blindspots… for a while. But as the years have gone by I’ve lost the habit, and my blind spots have become, well, blind.
The idea of a blind spot is that it’s an area, however small, that you cannot see from your point of view. Your passengers can probably see it, the cars driving behind you can definitely see it, but unless you intentionally adjust your point of view you will be oblivious to what is happening in that particular area. And so it is with leadership. There are some areas that for many leaders - myself included! - tend to be areas of weakness that can hamper our leadership capacity for as long as they remain unseen. That’s why, over the next three articles, we’ll be shining a light on some of the most common, and most often unseen, leadership blind spots…
Failure to Lead Up
This first leadership blind spot is huge, and so very common, for us youth leaders. You and I too often make the mistake of focusing on how we are leading our young people alone. We have an exciting vision for the future, we develop innovative programmes and become brilliant pastors to our young people, but just when it seems like everything is going well it all comes tumbling down because those in authority over us close the door. At this point we get angry and frustrated, “they just don’t understand how important this is,” we say to ourselves. But herein lies the blindspot… it’s not their fault, it’s ours!
Have you ever considered that if you had paid more attention to leading up; to envisioning your senior leaders about the direction of your youth ministry; to involving them earlier in the process; to coming to them for input on ideas not just finished plans; to deliberately sharing the stories of success and seeking their help in moments of discouragement, that perhaps things would have gone a little differently? Could it be that your blind spot is above your head? The failure to lead up will be like a ceiling on your leadership that cannot be broken through until you address it.
For Reflection: Is it possible that, in your desire to lead your young people well, the failure to lead up is a blind spot for you that requires some attention?
It will not have escaped your attention that everyone has an opinion about your youth ministry! Your team, the young people, your church leaders, and the parents of your young people, to name a few. And very often these opinions are in direct opposition with each other! The temptation is to try and keep everyone happy, but when we try to please everyone we end up settling for a mediocre middle ground that doesn’t inspire anyone! The hard to swallow truth is, if you want to lead well you have to be willing for people not to like you. Or, to quote Amy Orr-Ewing, “you have not really led until you have been opposed.”
The truth is, there is no setting the future without upsetting the present, so if you are not willing for some people not to like you, then leadership is really not for you! Remember, it is the job of the leader to minimise opposition, but not to eradicate it.
For Reflection: Is it possible that your desire to please people is preventing you from doing what you know God is calling you to do?
Aiming for excellence is a good thing. Continually making tweaks and improvements is a good thing. Doing the very best you can with what you’ve got is a good thing. Perfectionism is a bad thing. Why? Because perfectionism usually results in two things which damage your leadership potential….
The first is procrastination. The perfectionist leader will usually put off attempting something until she is sure she can deliver on it perfectly. She wants to have consulted every possible expert, book and resource she can gather on the subject before acting. She wants to have crossed every ‘i’ and dotted every ’t’, and as a result, she puts off engaging with the project until it’s too late - the opportunity has passed.
The second is micro-management. The truth is, the perfectionist leader doesn’t only want to see something done well, he wants it done his idea of well! This means that people serving on his team know that whenever they attempt something it will likely come under criticism, or the leader will follow behind them and “adjust” what they have done until it subscribes to his idea of perfection. This is demoralising for team members and damaging for morale. And as Liz Wiseman writes, “Sometimes a 90% solution executed with 100% ownership is better than getting it 100% right with a disengaged team.”
For Reflection: Are you going for excellence or perfection? Are you confusing ‘doing it well’ with ‘doing it your way’? Is your perfectionism damaging your team and restricting your leadership?
That’s plenty to reflect on for now, but we’ll be revealing three more leadership blind spots next month.
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