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Leaders: A Blind Spot?

There seems to be a catastrophic leadership assumption that whilst you might have to study for an MBA to understand strategy, or finance, or spend heavy duty time in order to be able to strut around having achieved a black belt in process analysis, none of this is required in order to successfully understand people from a leadership point of view.  Too often leaders are blind, deliberately or unconsciously, to what people are really like despite a mounting body of evidence that many of our assumptions may be wrong.

On the surface, the thinking seems to go: “Of course I know a lot about people; I’ve met a lot, right?”


That’s like me claiming because I have driven a lot of cars I understand how they work. The truth is that few of us have a really good understanding of other people and each of us has several in-built biases and predispositions that will distort how we understand people both specifically and in general. The result is that as leaders, we are often poor at judging how people will perceive and understand things and, critically, how they will make decisions and take action.

Leaders often pretend otherwise – their thinking seems to be that if something makes sense to them, not only does it make complete sense to everyone else but that it is understood in the same way and is equally as motivating.  One of the problems of leaders with a blind spot is that they fail to recognise the biases and predispositions in their own thinking. The arguments they present are not as objective as they think they are and riven with assumptions and convenient abstractions – but to them they look beautifully rational and objective.

The advances in understanding of human behaviour and mental processing in the last few years have been enormous and it should be a responsibility of all leaders to at least have a working knowledge of these breakthroughs. If leaders understood a lot more about what people are really like they would begin to understand why:

  • performance management systems rarely work,
  • they probably WON’T get what they incentivise, (and be careful what you wish for; it might come in the form of a global banking crisis or the appalling disgrace of Mid-Staffordshire),
  • the more innovation is demanded, the less is delivered,
  • if it makes sense on a flow diagram, few will understand it,

All this is there to be understood, as long as leaders are not afraid of moving away from the superficially objective and rational and start delving a little deeper into the real world of people. Coupled with this leaders need expose themselves to quality feedback to understand how their own individual style and approach impacts upon the people they lead. Developing understanding and exposure to feedback would enable leaders to get much closer to enabling the performance levels they need.

The Advance Programme from Apter

The Advance Programme from Apter Development LLP is a modular programme aimed at developing a manager’s ability to lead teams that sustain performance. Advance also develops the shaping and connecting skills that allows managers to link across boundaries and divisions to enable effective collaboration. Its unique combination of rehearsal, experimentation and feedback provides for sustainable changes in leadership and management performance

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