The Impact of Blinded Leadership: The Frontline Perspective

on May 7, 2019

When Root’s leaders, Jim Haudan and Rich Berens, wrote their book What Are Your Blind Spots? Conquering the 5 Misconceptions that Hold Leaders Back I was intrigued. After all, advising leaders on how to inspire and engage their people in change is our focus at Root and a passion of mine. As someone with a network of peers who might be on the receiving end of leaders who aren’t checking their blindspots, I think it’s important to consider what it’s like to be in that position and to be working with a leader who is wearing blinders.

Here are just a few of the ways a leader with blindspots negatively impacts their people and their business.

Frontline Issue: Leaders Talk About Purpose, But Don’t Live Purpose

Many leaders embrace the concept of purpose, but fail to actually run their business in a purpose-driven way. For example, a colleague and I were meeting with a luxury retail brand earlier in the year. They just created new wall signage related to the brand’s purpose. The signage is well designed and includes several “five-dollar” words—customer focuscommunity, etc. It looks great! But upon meeting with some of their leaders, we uncovered there hasn’t been any communication about it with the front line. I’m not even sure everyone has read it, as many employees enter through a back entrance.

It was clear to me that not everyone had read it. On my way up to a meeting last month, I overheard a customer service employee saying, “Sorry, we don’t offer that here,” to a customer. After which the customer walked away—right past the sign that has “customer focus” in bold lettering. Your purpose can’t be a theory. It has to be a living part of your brand, and that starts at the top.

Frontline Issue: Leaders Think They Have a Compelling Story, but It Doesn’t Resonate with the Masses

Here’s a story about my friend who works for a meat distributor, which is a subsidiary of a larger company. I once asked him to describe the vision of his company. He responded, “We sell a lot of meats.” He also mentioned the revenue goal of $400 million, which he then changed to $800 million. He was confused as to how the subsidiary fit into the big picture. He was lacking any real understanding of the vision or story of his organization because there wasn’t any story there. It was just an assortment of financial aspirations without any plan or initiatives to connect to it. Without a true understanding of the big picture, how can people give any discretionary effort to make the goals a reality?

Frontline Issue: Leaders Create Great Strategies, but Fail to Engage Their People Effectively

I have another friend who recently started a job at an environmental consulting firm. Bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, he jumped into his role with excitement and drive. Knowing my line of work, he called to tell me about the strategy socialization team’s 2020 plan of action. He had my attention until he told me they used PowerPoint. The only meaningful nugget he took from it was the company’s plans to expand into emerging markets like China.

He said, “But I don’t work in China. What does that have to do with me?” He then shared that the rest of the presentation was so irrelevant and boring that he started watching The Masters on his phone instead.

I was bummed for him! If an energized, ready-to-make-a-difference, hungry, young buck like my friend found the company’s presentation on its future boring and irrelevant, what do you think a jaded 30-year vet in the company was thinking when they heard this?

Frontline Issue: Leaders Mandate Behaviors and Policy, but Don’t Trust Their People to Carry Them Out

Here’s a story about my friend Pat. He runs a satellite office heading up distribution for a parts supplier company based in Japan. Pat is MBA educated with five years of industry experience. And his boss calls him every day. Every single day. Some might say it’s a diligent boss who wants to be supportive. However, Pat is very familiar with the structures, the routines, and the operational details needed to execute orders and deal with customers. He has a process checklist that is scripted down to the T. And everyday his boss checks in to ensure each of those boxes are checked. They always are.

Pat doesn’t need his boss checking in on him. In fact, he doesn’t even need a checklist. He already knows the best ways to interact with customers. But he’s being micro-managed, and micromanagement typically results in disgruntled employees who end up quitting. Pat needs the space to let his strengths shine and be trusted to apply his personality to create even better results for customers.

Frontline Issue: Leaders Say People Have a Voice, but Don’t Create the Right Environment

When I was working with a community advocacy organization, our point of contact was an executive at the VP level who set up a meeting for us to meet the CEO and president. It felt like an action video game: getting prepared before the meeting with the big bosses. She gave us notes on what to watch for, what to say, what not to say. We had our meeting with the powers that be. We talked about strategy, how we could help visualize and create shared meaning. We asked about tech transformation and how it played a role in the strategy. Our contact gave a brilliantly robust answer. After the meeting, we got lunch with her and debriefed as a team. And that’s when she told us her real answer about digital transformation, which was a seemingly opposite recommendation than the one she shared in the meeting with CEO and president. She didn’t share her real opinion. She said what they wanted to hear.

Our team was concerned. How will that strategy fare if the person owning it doesn’t feel comfortable enough to tell the truth about it? How will the rest of the teams feel when they have to execute a plan that no one really believes in?

The Bottom Line—It’s Time to Remove Your Leadership Blinders

The bottom line is this: leaders need to do a better job at tapping into their people’s mindsets, opinions, and perspectives. The view from the C-suite usually looks different from the view on the front line. But if you’re mindful of your leadership blindspots, you’ll be able to meet your people where they are and support them as you work together to accomplish big picture goals.

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