Nearly every driver has had the experience. You look in your rear view and side view mirrors, hit the signal, and begin to drift into the next lane of traffic. Those routine procedures give you a sense of safety, so you turn your mind to the things ahead of you. Then suddenly, you hear the loud horn blast. Your heart jumps into your throat, you swing the car back into your lane, and you make apologizing motions to the driver in the car you did not see.
The problem with blind spots is you don’t see them .Blind spots make lane changes surprisingly dangerous. It happens in leadership, too. Leaders have blind spots. I know I do. We don’t often discover them until we’re making a change, adjusting course. You’re cruising along, changing lanes, and sometimes someone has to honk the horn real loud. Have you ever had that happen? I have. So, here are a couple lessons I’m learning as I lead with blind spots.
1. I have more than one blind spot. They’re on both sides. Leaders can sometimes act as if they have a good view of themselves, a solid assessment of strengths and weaknesses. But if our assessment is limited to self-perception, chances are there will be some gaping holes in what we see. So, it’s really vital to have others contribute to our assessments.
2. I really need to signal well in advance. Others are around me. They’re trying to keep speed and match movements with the pace car. Leaders have to communicate changes in direction, even changes as gradual and gentle as lane changes. Lane changes can crush other drivers. They need to know what I’m thinking and where I’m headed before I actually make the move.
3. I need to look over my shoulder. Mirrors are helpful, but alone they don’t eliminate blind spots. My driver’s ed teacher taught us to always take that backward glance over the shoulder. In leadership, looking back to find others traveling with you can help immensely. How many of us have charged hills with breakneck speed and reckless abandon only to look back and see the troops still in the camp. How do we look over our shoulders? Ask the people who follow our lead what they see that we seem not to notice. Ask them, “What are my blind spots?” “How is my leadership affecting others around me in ways I appear to overlook?”
4. I need to heed the honks. Horns are fabulous pieces of equipment. They can be loud and obnoxious (hooonk!!) and sometimes light and chimey (beep, beep). Like leaders. When it comes to blind spots, leaders need to know something about honkology, what the horns are signaling to us. Some of us live in cultures where horns are used for everything–lane changes, greetings to pedestrians, and musical accompaniment. Some of us live in countries where horns are only used in emergencies, to alert others to dangers. Interpreting horns depends on where you live and how they’re used. We have to interpret the feedback we’re getting. Is the driver simply honking to constantly communicate, or is he laying on the horn because he’s angry? Is he signaling that the lane change is okay, or is he protecting his space?
5. Finally, I need to adjust the mirrors. We know we’re heeding the honks and adjusting to reality when we adjust our mirrors. Again, mirrors alone won’t help you see everything. But they’re still useful. Leaders, we need to compensate by including the perspectives of other, growing from feedback, and expanding our view. We can’t include all the feedback at once. But the incremental adjustments of the mirrors might just widen our field of view enough to keep our lane changes safe and keep the traffic flowing with us.